Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears A Crown

The ECB chair, Ian Watmore, resigned today. It was something of a shock, as it was just over a year since he was hired in 2020. He came into the role at one of the worst times imaginable, with the ECB in an unimaginably poor financial position, The Hundred launch, and the continued spectre of COVID. This should have been the time when these pressures were easing on Watmore, but instead things seemed to unravel in quick succession. The shambolic cancellation of England’s tours to Pakistan, a disastrous meeting with county chiefs, and the lethargic response to Yorkshire’s racism report have meant that he had seemingly lost friends and allies in every sector of English cricket. Ultimately, as Michael Atherton puts it, he lost the dressing room and had to go.

Who takes over the position of ECB chair, and how they choose to approach the role, will have a significant effect on English cricket in the next few years and beyond. There are some huge challenges ahead, and here are some thoughts on a few of them:

The Ashes

The ECB are due to announce their decision tomorrow, but it seems increasingly likely that England’s tour of Australia will broadly go ahead as planned. This was expected, if only because of a cynical appraisal of how important Cricket Australia is to the ECB relative to the Pakistan Cricket Board. It’s certainly difficult to understand the logic behind a declaration that a four-day tour of Pakistan would be onerous on the players and staff whilst a three-month tour of Australia (including over a week just in quarantine) is fine.

But there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, and the past year or so should teach us not to take anything for granted. A spike in Australian infections before or during the tour could put the spotlight back on the England team’s continued involvement. I personally have little sympathy with Cricket Australia, who have only played ODIs and T20Is away from home in the last eighteen months and can’t really understand the toll taken on England’s Test cricketers over that time.

I also think that the England team will have a lot less patience with Australia’s typical tactic of ‘mental disintegration’, both on the field and in the media, which is part of almost every antipodean Ashes. Joe Root is no doubt mindful of the huge financial pressure Cricket Australia are under, with up to $200m riding on the series going ahead, and might well consider taking his team home rather than copping a ton of abuse from people he is doing a huge favour for.

All of which is to say that the incoming chair will have an important and difficult task to handle, straight out of the gate (assuming they are appointed this year). Ensuring the series goes ahead as planned, holding Cricket Australia to their promises, and backing the players if they pull the plug on the whole thing. Whoever gets the job will have to hit the ground running, so to speak.

Pakistan/West Indies

One of the things which precipitated Watmore’s resignation appears to be the fallout from the cancellation of England’s tours of Pakistan. It would therefore be a good move from his successor to repair relations between the two countries as quickly as possible. Announcing a new tour, or an extension of the already-scheduled tour in 2022, would be a good way to go about this. The 2022 tour to the West Indies was expanded by three games as a similar show of gratitude for CWI touring England in 2020, and the chair should reiterate the ECB’s commitment to fulfilling their promises at the earliest opportunity.

On a broader level, it would be nice if the ECB spent more time touring the less financially or politically powerful cricketing nations. England last played an away Test against Bangladesh in 2016, Zimbabwe in 1996, and have never done so against Ireland. We love Test cricket in this country, but its continued survival depends on it being financially viable around the world. If we could find a way to visit these countries, even with weakened and rotated teams, it would go a long way to rebuilding relationships with cricketing nations outside the ‘Big 3’.

The Hundred

It seemed like it cast a vast, dark shadow over English cricket in the months and years leading up to its launch, but the end result felt decidedly unimpressive. Neither a triumphant success nor an unmitigated disaster. Just ‘meh’. Which might be considered a victory for its proponents, if not for the colossal price tag. All told, it’s likely that the true cost of that first season (including the development, design, and other costs in the years before) amounts to well over £100m. If I were to ever spend that kind of money on something, I’d expect nothing less than perfection.

The new ECB chair will undoubtedly want to make some changes for The Hundred’s sophomore season. Cutting the costs might be a good place to start. If the ECB could slice £13m from its £63m annual spend on the competition, it would at least break even. Cut a little more and it could actually start making the profit that Tom Harrison and others have already claimed. There’s certainly a lot of extraneous things which could be removed with little obvious impact to ticket sales, such as the musical guests at every game.

There will be those of you who would love to see The Hundred disappear altogether, but I can’t see that happening before 2025 (the beginning of the next TV deal). It’s in the Sky and BBC contracts, and there’s no backing out of that now. Aside from anything else, I really don’t like people or organisations who renege on their agreements. Polishing the turd is likely the order of the day, before it can be flushed away altogether in the next round of broadcast rights.

Sky TV Deal

Speaking of broadcast rights, the preparation for the next auction will likely be beginning soon. For all their faults, Colin Graves and Tom Harrison did oversee the first English cricket being shown on free-to-air TV since 2005 (even if it was just T20Is and The Hundred). The new ECB chair will have the opportunity to surpass that by some margin, if they choose to prioritise the growth of the game over the accumulation of money. In other words: Put live Test cricket back on Channel 4.

It might sound like a great idea to us fans, but it’s worth remembering that the ECB chair is elected by the counties who all rely on the cash they receive from the central TV contracts. A debt-ridden club, of which there are a few, might well prioritise getting an extra £2m every year over the exposure that Freeview provides. If the chair can’t persuade the counties to accept a bit less money, their tenure in the job could be as short as Ian Watmore’s.

The decision may not be as clear cut as this. BT has seemingly losing interest in their sports division whilst streaming giants like Amazon have launched their own coverage for events like the US Open in tennis. It’s a different world, which could lead to the value of English cricket’s coverage climbing or plummeting. Given this uncertainty, the ECB chair’s responsibility of ensuring maximum exposure for the game whilst keeping it solvent is not one I envy.

Yorkshire

It’s been three years since Azeem Rafiq first made his complaints known to several people at Yorkshire CCC, thirteen months since the county finally launched an investigation into the matter, and almost two months since they received the finished report. In all that time, the ECB have done nothing. It stinks, especially when you compare it to the high-profile and instant reaction to Ollie Robinson’s old tweets earlier this year. It would be nice to think that the new ECB chair could finally get things moving, although the cynical side of me has its doubts.

To become chair of the ECB, you have to be voted in by a majority of forty county representatives (both the major and minor counties). That includes Yorkshire, as well as any other counties who have their own skeletons in the closet. Quite simply: It would be difficult to see someone getting the job if they were committed to investigating and punishing racism at the counties. This is a short-sighted approach, as allowing the issue to continue unabated will only cause more problems for the clubs later on, but none of the county chairs seem particularly inclined to see it from this viewpoint.

County Cricket

The meeting which reportedly brought Ian Watmore’s tenure as ECB chair to an end was in large part about the future shape of English domestic cricket. There is also considerable tension between the counties which host The Hundred teams and those who don’t. With four domestic competitions and a packed international calendar, it will be no easy feat for his successor to keep everyone happy. In fact, it may well be impossible.

Given that the counties elect the ECB chair, whoever gets the job will have to be persuasive in getting everyone to compromise. It’s something of a tightrope, balancing the interests of all 18 counties, and I don’t have much hope for the outcome being particularly welcomed by county cricket fans.

Women’s Cricket

If the Hundred had one almost undeniable success, it was in the performance and popularity of the women’s competition. It had attendance and viewing figures not far removed from that of the men’s games, which begs the question: What next?

One obvious issue which could be quickly addressed is that of pay: The women were paid less than a sixth of what the men received on average. There is certainly a case for that imbalance to be at least partly remedied. The new chair might also see an opportunity to increase the value to the ECB of these likeable and talented cricketers by encouraging Sky to broadcast women’s domestic games outside of The Hundred.

On a personal note, I would also love to see women’s Test cricket on a regular basis. It baffles me that the women’s team play almost no matches in the format which is by far the most popular and profitable for their male counterparts. If the ECB could see their way to persuading every touring team to play at least one Test, I think it would go a long way towards ‘traditional’ (ie old) cricket fans fully embracing women’s cricket.

Participation

As people often seem to forget, the ECB is responsible for amateur cricket in England and Wales as well as the professional game. Cricket clubs seem to get very little support from their governing body, and are rarely listened to. Volunteers are taken for granted, monolithic schemes such as All Stars or Dynamos are thrust upon clubs, and hours of bureaucratic admin and tech support are inflicted on club secretaries through ClubSpark and PlayCricket.

It would be incredible if the new ECB chair could do something about this. There are two key themes which I think need to be addressed: Simplicity and flexibility. The first is easy: Running a local cricket club should not have to be a full-time (unpaid) job. It should not require expertise in computers, social media and finances as well as (you would hope) some knowledge of cricket. It shouldn’t take months to adapt to the software you use for scoring. These are all long-standing issues which the ECB never seem inclined to tackle.

The second fundamental change I would love to see from the ECB is to recognise the enormous diversity of clubs in English cricket. Some have hundreds of members, some barely have eleven. Some have pavillions, and some don’t. Some are in affluent areas, and some aren’t. Some teams are focused on winning at all costs, some are more social clubs. Whenever a new scheme is released by the ECB, it always seems like it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Thats fine if your club fits (like, I would guess, most ECB Premier League teams), but it leaves a lot more on the outside looking in. A more flexible, attentive attitude towards club cricket could really help boost participation (or at least slow its decline) across the country.

Restructuring

As I have said several times now through this post, the ECB chair is elected essentially by the counties. This means that the counties’ needs (mostly money) are prioritised over the interests of every other ‘stakeholder’ in English cricket; The players, proponents of the women’s game, people involved in local clubs, and of course the fans. This is just the fundamental structure of the ECB.

In order to break the cycle of counties pressuring the ECB to maximise revenues to prop up their own mismanaged clubs at the expense of every other aspect of the sport, the long term solution is to introduce representatives of everyone the ECB holds sway over as members and decisionmakers of equal importance to the counties. Organisations such as the Professional Cricketers Association, the Cricket Supporters’ Association and the assorted club cricket organisations absolutely deserve to have some say over who makes decisions on their behalf.

It would undoubtedly be a hard sell to persuade the counties to cede some of their power, but it’s difficult to see the ECB becoming a functioning governing body whilst the people running it are beholden to just one interest group.

Conclusion

The more I wrote of this post, the more I felt sorry for Ian Watmore. It’s clear that it’s a virtually impossible job, which explains why no one seems to have particularly fond memories of any ECB (or TCCB) chairman in the history of the sport.

There is, of course, one outstanding candidate: George Dobell. Well liked by many involved in running county cricket, a founder of the Cricket Supporters’ Association and a known proponent for reforming the game. He’s also currently between jobs and presumably available to take over at short notice. If there is one person who can address all of the points in this post, and basically save English cricket, it’s George Dobell.

Otherwise, we’re screwed.

If you want to comment on this post, or any of the dozens of things happening in cricket right now, please write your comments below.

Lies, Damn Lies, And The Hundred

The Hundred has overshadowed essentially the whole of the English summer so far. It was, at least according to a lot of people, either the best or worst thing to happen in the entire history of cricket. I personally found it fairly underwhelming, but I can’t say I regularly watch T20 games anyway. The standard didn’t seem noticeably higher than the T20 Blast. The coverage was standard global T20 fare, with both the BBC and Sky dragging the standards down with a few dreadful choices in the commentary box. The ‘innovations’ (The TV graphics, five-ball overs, bowlers in consecutive overs, etc) seemed gimmicky and unnecessary. It was all a bit ‘meh’.

It is said that history is written by the victors, but sometimes the victors of a conflict can be decided by who writes the history. To that end, the ECB has posted a list of statistics which attempted to ‘prove’ the success of their new competition.

  • A total of 16.1m people watched some of the action on TV alone
  • 57% of viewers had not watched any other live ECB cricket in 2021
  • The peak number of viewers for finals day were 1.4m for the women’s game and 2.4m for the men’s game
  • 510,000 tickets were sold and issued in total
  • 55% of ticket buyers had not bought a ticket for cricket in this country before
  • 19% of tickets sold were for children
  • 59% of ticket-buyers were under 45 years old
  • 21% of ticket buyers were women
  • The total attendance for women’s games was 267,000, which is a world record for any women’s cricket event
  • There were 34.3m videos views, plus 264,000 downloads of The Hundred app
  • More than 28,000 items of merchandise were sold, including 7,000 items of team kit and training-wear
  • More runs per ball in the men’s competition than the IPL, and more in the women’s competition than the WBBL
  • A revenue of roughly £50m, which gives a profit of £10m to re-invest in cricket
  • A 230% increase in the number of junior fixtures in August 2021 compared to 2017-19
  • 10,000 more adult fixtures being played in club cricket compared to 2019
  • Over 101,000 children taking part in ECB-run National Programmes this summer
  • A 900% increase in the number of kids playing in All Stars and Dynamos during The Hundred competition time compared to previous years, thanks to the introduction of Dynamos
  • All Stars and Dynamos have seen 27,000 girls, 13,000 children from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and over 3,000 disabled children pick up a bat and ball
  • 10,000 kids have had free access to Dynamos cricket thanks to Sky’s sponsorship
  • 160 hubs in cities across the country have worked with over 20,000 young people, and 10,000 more have attended cricketing school breakfast clubs set up by the ECB

This is obviously a lot to go through, so I will split it up into three groups: TV viewers, attendances, and participation.

TV Viewers

A total of 16.1 million people watched some part of the action on TV alone. This seems impressive at first, but lacks a lot of context. First, what does “watched some part of the action” mean? The number of people watching a TV programme can be quantified in many different ways, the most common being ‘average’, ‘peak’ and ‘reach’. A company such as BARB uses a sample group of representative TV viewers (or real-time data from set-top boxes and online viewing) to estimate the number of people watching every TV programme in five-minute segments. The ‘average’ number of viewers is the mean of every segment for that programme and the ‘peak’ is the highest number of viewers for any segment in the programme. ‘Reach’ is the broadest measurement of the three, and essentially includes every single viewer who watched even just one five-minute segment of a TV programme (or, in this case, a series of thirty four TV programmes).

So how does this compare to other recent televised cricket? Well this year’s Test series between India and England on Channel 4 had a total ‘reach’ of over 9 million viewers, despite being between 4am and noon rather than UK prime time television. In 2019, 15.4 million people in the UK watched some part of the Men’s World Cup final. That was just one game, with almost no promotion by Channel 4 due to the last-minute nature of the agreement to let them air it.

57% of viewers had not watched any other live ECB cricket in 2021. The key words here are “watched”, “live”, and “ECB”. “Watched” excludes people who listen to Test Match Special, “live” excludes people who watched the highlights on the BBC, and “ECB” excludes people who saw the Test series against India on Channel 4 (which the BCCI was responsible for). This statistic is presented in such a way as to imply that more than half of the TV viewers for The Hundred were new to the sport, or at least disconnected from it, but in fact does nothing of the sort.

The peak number of viewers for finals day were 1.4 million for the women’s game and 2.4 million for the men’s game. To add context for these figures: The opening games in the competition had peaks of 2.5 million viewers for the men’s game and 1.95 million viewers for the women’s. This suggests that audiences may have declined over the competition. Also bear in mind that these opening games were held on a Wednesday and Thursday night, whilst the finals were on the weekend when you might expect the number of TV viewers to be higher. If you were to compare these figures to the 2019 Men’s World Cup final, that had 8.92 million viewers at the start of the super over.

There were 34.3 million video views, plus 264,000 downloads of The Hundred app. Is this a lot? The ICC said that they had 4.6 billion video views during the 2019 Men’s World Cup, for example. I would guess that the number of views would increase with the number of videos you post, and with the number of platforms you posted them on. The number of views for the most popular video they posted would be interesting information, at least for me.

Attendances

510,000 tickets were sold and issued in total. The first part of this that jumps out at everyone is “and issued”. Something like 30-40,000 were given away by the ECB to NHS staff, cricket volunteers and children. I believe that Surrey were the only host county to include free entrance to The Hundred in their membership packages, but neither Surrey nor the ECB have said how many members took up this offer. The broader context of this figure is that the tickets were typically a lot cheaper than they would have been at the same grounds in the T20 Blast and, other than the Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord’s, no other first team cricket for cricket fans to watch at the grounds for the length of the competition.

55% of ticket-buyers had not bought a ticket for cricket in this country before. 19% of tickets sold were for children. 59% of ticket-buyers were under 45 years old. 21% of ticket-buyers were women. This is a huge dump of information regarding the demographics of people buying tickets for The Hundred, which appears impressive at first glance. Without knowing what the comparable figures were for the T20 Blast, you could look at these and assume that The Hundred was a huge step towards increasing the diversity of cricket crowds in England. In fact, Surrey have released their T20 Blast sales figures which appear to be very similar to those from The Hundred: 50% of their ticket-buyers were new to them in 2019, 20% of their tickets were for families, 60% of their ticket-buyers were under 45 years old, and 18% of their ticket-buyers were women. Whilst obviously the numbers for The Hundred are across eight grounds rather than just one, there seems to be very little improvement (if any) from the T20 Blast.

The total attendance for women’s games was 267,000, which is a world record for any women’s cricket event. You know what? I’m just going to give them this. If you were nitpicking, you could say that these figures (taken at the halfway point of the women’s games) includes some fans who only turned up early for the men’s games so they could get absolutely plastered. But even if that accounted for 30-40% of the official attendance, it would still be a world record.

More than 28,000 items of merchandise were sold, including 7,000 items of team kit and training-wear. This doesn’t even sound that impressive. I really wouldn’t be surprised if Surrey and Middlesex each sold more than 7,000 of their own kits to fans per year, whilst ‘items of merchandise’ could mean everything from a £1 bumper sticker to a £10 baseball cap.

More runs per ball in the men’s competition than the IPL, and more in the women’s competition than the WBBL. This one doesn’t really fit in any of the categories, so it might as well go here. The comparison with the IPL and WBBL seems a little odd. My entirely untested view on this is that Indian and Australian grounds typically seem larger than English ones on TV, which therefore makes it easier to hit sixes and have a higher scoring rate in England. Near the halfway point of The Hundred, statistician Ric Finlay said that the scoring rate in the men’s Hundred was 143.21 as opposed to 141.64 in the 2021 T20 Blast. It’s hardly a huge step forwards, at least in this country.

A revenue of roughly £50 million, which gives a profit of £10 million to re-invest in cricket. These figures have been questioned by a lot of people, as they don’t include the costs of the £1.3 million annual payments to each of the eighteen first-class counties (a total of £23.4 million per year). If this were included, The Hundred couldn’t be expected to make an annual profit until at least the next TV deal in 2025. One might also be forgiven for being cynical about the ECB’s intention to direct this ‘surplus’ towards grassroots cricket when (for example) the bonuses for ECB executives (£2.1 million) is almost the same as their annual donation for Chance To Shine (£2.5 million).

Participation

A 230% increase in the number of junior fixtures in August 2021 compared to 2017-19. 10,000 more adult fixtures being played in club cricket compared to 2019. A 900% increase in the number of kids playing in All Stars and Dynamos during The Hundred competition time. This has been a weird year. In terms of club cricket, the majority of games are typically held before August because that is when most children, and their parents, are away on holiday and therefore unavailable for games or training sessions. This year, there were a lot of restrictions related to COVID-19 until July 19th and a lot of people won’t be going away on holiday this summer.

It is also worthwhile to consider what the ECB’s source of information for these fixture figures is. It seems likely that it is via PlayCricket, the ECB’s website/app for cricket club administration and scoring. It has been mentioned that some club leagues have insisted clubs use PlayCricket more this year than in the past, which may have the effect of clubs posting games on the ECB website (friendlies, intra-squad matches, etc) which they would not have done before. Whether these figures reflect an actual increase in matches or just greater use of PlayCricket is yet to be seen.

Over 101,000 children taking part in ECB-run National Programmes this summer. 10,000 kids had free access to Dynamos cricket thanks to Sky’s sponsorship. 160 hubs in cities across the country have worked with over 20,000 young people, and 10,000 more have attended cricketing school breakfast clubs set up by the ECB. The headline figure of 101,000 seems great, until you consider the statistics which follow it. The ECB has launched Dynamos, which targets slightly older kids at clubs which already hold All Stars sessions, as well as the new hubs and breakfast clubs which all presumably are counted as “ECB-run National Programmes”. It seems probable that the only like-for-like comparison, the number of children in All Stars cricket, has actually fallen quite sharply. This is unsurprising and unavoidable in a pandemic-affected year, but the figures given seem quite misleading.

All Stars and Dynamos have seen 27,000 girls, 13,000 children from ethnically diverse backgrounds and over 3,000 disabled children pick up a bat and ball. Is this better than previous years, or non-branded junior club cricket sessions? Because the ECB has never consistently released data of participation, and when it does it is cherry-picked to support their decision like the ones above, I have absolutely no idea whether it is good or bad.

? Perhaps the most important figure is the one that the ECB hasn’t included: Total participation. The number of senior and/or junior players in England and Wales has fallen in every season from about 2010 onwards. To be clear: I’m not getting this from official figures, because the ECB doesn’t release them (unlike, for example, Cricket Australia). However, I do know that if the number of club cricketers had increased in that period then the ECB would have spared no effort or expense in letting everyone know about it, and how they were responsible. There would be press releases, TV interviews, open-top bus parades around St. John’s Wood, and so on. Their continued silence just reaffirms that, in spite of everything they’ve said, club cricket is in decline overall.

That’s A Bonus

Part of the ECB’s eagerness to extoll the positive effects of The Hundred might be explained by the fact that their executives are apparently due to share a massive £2.1m in “performance-related” bonuses, based on reaching goals from their “Inspiring Generations” strategy document. This has been greeted with almost universal disbelief. Several defences and rationales for why the ECB executives should still receive this money have been offered, but none have been more complete than that by former ECB chairman Colin Graves. In an interview with the Guardian, he said:

“[The executives] have won the men’s World Cup [in 2019], the women’s World Cup [in 2017], secured the best broadcast deal in the history of the sport [worth £1.1bn], got the Hundred up and running and managed to stage a full summer of international cricket behind closed doors in 2020, despite a global pandemic. English cricket would have gone bust and they saved it.”

I must have missed Tom Harrison bowling England to victory in the 2017 women’s World Cup, or Sanjay Patel completing the run out at the very end of the 2019 men’s World Cup. Whilst such victories are undoubtedly group efforts, requiring the support of a multitude of people behind the scenes, few people outside of a former executive would place the importance of the top brass over that of the players on the field.

If these executives did “save English cricket”, it was also them who endangered its life by spending all of the ECB’s £70 million reserves (in 2016) on The Hundred (either directly, or using it to bribe counties into supporting a new competition). That £70 million would have been incredibly helpful for an unexpected event like (for example) a one-a-century global pandemic threatened all professional and amateur sport around the world.

If there is one group of people who did save (professional) cricket in England, it’s the West Indies and Pakistan teams who toured here in 2020. They came at an uncertain time, into a country with a high rate of infections, and spent almost all of their time here locked in their cricket grounds/hotels. I am sure it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, for which they received little reward. Had they not come, it seems likely that the ECB would have lost most if not all of the Sky TV deal which it required to keep themselves and the counties afloat financially during the pandemic. If saving English cricket is the criteria for these bonuses, give it to them instead of the executives.

Graves also suggested that the bonus payments are a contractual matter in which no one (including the ECB, its chairman or the executives themselves) have any say over. That is simply not a credible argument after the last eighteen months. The England men’s players agreed a substantial cut in their own bonuses last year. Men’s county cricketers agreed to several pay cuts, including to their minimum salary. Men’s players in The Hundred agreed a 20% pay cut. These were all based on signed contracts, where the players and the PCA would have been entirely within their rights to demand the full amounts due. But they didn’t because they were persuaded, quite possibly by the ECB executives, that the game had a much greater need for that money elsewhere and that they could afford to take a financial hit in exchange for safeguarding the game that has given them so much.

The players at least had a choice. The ECB executives sacked 62 members of staff last year to cut costs, and many more at the counties will have lost their jobs too. For them, and the ECB staff members left behind with pay freezes and more work to handle with fewer colleagues, these news reports are about as welcome as a cup of cold vomit. That £2.1 million might well have saved a lot of their jobs, if nothing else. The fact that word of the bonuses was apparently leaked to the press might serve as a warning to Tom Harrison and the other executives, as you would imagine that there are a lot of skeletons in their closets (as well as their email folders and expense accounts) which their underpaid, overworked, and probably very angry underlings could email to friendly journalists.

The idea which Graves raised that the ECB’s executives are irreplaceable due to their genius-like intelligence is undercut by one simple fact: They did not see this backlash coming at all. Once it did come, they have not appeared to do anything about it. They have managed to upset the players, their staff (basically everyone in the whole organisation not getting the bonus), and the fans (always the least important group for them). That’s not being smart. It’s being greedy, and arrogant, and uncaring.

On a personal note, the idea of executive bonuses tied to targets has always baffled me somewhat. I am an employee who has always been very near the lower end of any organisational chart, and the idea of being paid extra for doing your job well has always been a distant dream to me. If I meet the targets set for me, I get to keep my job. If I don’t, I would be fired. The idea that I could achieve essentially none of my goals and still receive 80% of my wages sounds like a very nice employment contract to have.

As has been said by many people, the genuinely irreplaceable people in English cricket are the volunteers who run our clubs. The people who give vast amounts of their time and money to make it possible for virtually anyone in the country to play cricket every weekend through the summer. The chairs, coaches, players, groundskeepers, umpires, cooks, bar staff, and everyone else who sacrifices a lot and may well have had a very hard time of it in the past year. They get very little support from the ECB, and almost none personally from Tom Harrison and the other executives. Although £2.1 million might not be much when shared between the thousands of clubs across the country, this would have been a far better use of the money than having an extra wing built on Château Costume Vide.

At this point, I don’t expect much to change. The ECB’s playbook in such cases is normally to wait out the initial wave of fury and then do what they want anyway. You could see that in The Hundred, and the accusations of racism at Yorkshire, and in multiple other examples. If they cared about what people thought, they wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

If you have anything to say about the unmitigated gall of the ECB’s executives, the Test series, or anything else, post your comments below.

A Sort Of Preview – Picture It Now, See Just How, The Lies And Deceit Gained A Little More Power

The Grabbing Hands, Grab All They Can, All For Themselves, After All Martin Gore

It seems to me that most sport now seems to exist to relieve the public at large of their money. There does not seem to be that sense of getting things right, striking a balance between the need to fund and the need to maintain the history of where the sport came from. There does not seem to be any real priority in making sport, in totality, for all. It doesn’t seek to inspire through context, it doesn’t seek to exhilarate through tradition. It doesn’t so much as seek context these days, rather than to create it. It looks at the past and turns up its nose. Evolve, change or stagnate.

Tomorrow the third test of what is England’s largest money-spinning series will begin in the last week of August – you could even laugh at the fact that this is a Bank Holiday weekend, yet given England’s batting form, the chances of two of those three days having cricket is slim, unless, weather. Definitely no chance of Bank Holiday finale action. The circus will be on to the Oval for the non-final test of the summer, because, well, reasons for that too. Can’t have a non-working day with test cricket, can we?

There are still two test matches to go, with the series concluding on 14 September. While not quite in Autumn’s full blast, we are not far away. That, in itself, is slightly maddening, with five tests crammed into around 6 or so weeks. Sure, in the past, we played India in three test series – indeed in 1986 and 2007 India won those events – but now money means five test series are back for the mightiest financial foe. Let’s see how many the World Champion test team gets the next time they come over. Put it this way, when India came over in 2018, total ECB turnover for the year was £172m. In 2019, with an Ashes summer and a World Cup it was £227m. The last year without either, 2017 it was £125m and the year before that, £112m. Sorry New Zealand. Big Three and ICC only matter here. Money talks louder than Maces.

To wail against this is to be shaking a fist at a cloud. It doesn’t matter to those up there. It doesn’t even matter really to the players. I have sympathy with top players who cite major hardships in long tours, and especially in this climate of bubbles and Covid. I am not fully aware of the financial consequences of this at this stage – views are that players took a pay cut last year – but that has most certainly not been the direction of travel. Players get a lot more than they used to, and the IPL and increasing TV contract values are major contributors. Top test players in this country are very well rewarded, and to a degree, so they should be. But spare me the “short career” cobblers I hear for the justification. They earn more for providing us with the same content, but we have to pay for it. I am not doubting that they all love test cricket, this England team, and they are all trying their hardest. But for some, failure isn’t quite the disaster it might have been. For Sibley, being dropped, with the voices heard behind him, is a calamity. For KP, being sacked allowed him to become a T20 gun for hire – not deniable – and while being excluded stung, it wasn’t a career, or money-earner, ending decision. Two different talents, two different environment. An even further cry from the days of 2005. The AD of English Cricket.

Let’s take my usual trip to the Oval Test back in the day – ended because the fan experience was too expensive, too uncomfortable and I didn’t fancy doing an impression of a beer towel. Now if memory serves, my Ashes ticket for the Oval in 2005 was somewhere around £50. I could dig it out, but let’s go with that. India used to be considerably less than that – around £35-40 for my seats. Now those prices have, at least, doubled up until now. With inflation bobbing below 3% for all of that 15 year interlude, and sometimes a fair way below that, the cost has increased in real terms. So have the value of TV contracts. Both of these are what we pay for, prices set by the powers that be.

So I’ll get my little moan in first with the players. You have sources of income at the very highest level that were only dreams back in the day. Get an IPL contract and it can be very lucrative. Get on the T20 train, and you can accumulate some nice amounts. Be a red-ball star seems too much like hard work, with only the very top getting the really big amounts. Players, with their short careers, aren’t going to be human if they don’t want to take the shorter route. Why play in tests? The danger is not that they don’t see the value and history – clearly players like Kohli, for all his sins, most certainly do – but that the authorities, our authority patently by their actions, don’t give the first toss about it. Joe Root still hankers after T20 status, while being England’s greatest player in a generation in tests. Why? He’s so good at batting they made him captain!

Tomorrow England go into the 3rd Test with half a squad injured, replacements having had little, if any, first class, red-ball cricket since before England had played the Euro 2020/21 Final (and that seems a lifetime ago) and yet they make no statement to tell the world just how they’ve cocked up this schedule except Covid. How that has meant no red-ball cricket this year, you tell me. If anyone is buying this crap, then don’t open your e-mail account, and certainly not that one from a retired General who can’t get his money out of his homeland. Harrison hid behind this ludicrous fig-leaf while being marginally threatened in an interview with Atherton – I will come to that when I do a full review of it, soon – as if it explained everything. Covid devastated finances last year, and will affect this years to a lesser degree. There is some sympathy there, even gratitude for some cricket last year But don’t push it. Because, as you mentioned back in 2015 old pal, you have serious trust issues with yours truly, your humble scribe, and many others out there. And I really think you need to rebuild that trust with us obsessives before crying in front of us. One might even start to believe there is an ounce of humility in your soul.

And then, Ali Martin dropped the bombshell last night. As part of some cooked-up little earner back in the day, around “six or seven” ECB senior staff are going to share around £2.1m between themselves. It appears to be contractual, so has to be paid. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house to hear that Tom Harrison had taken a pay cut to just over half a million quid (double what Downton was paid, for example) from his astronomical £700k which he got in the 2018/19 accounts. Presumably this was a “reward” for getting Sky to bid against themselves and raise the TV cash. Sky get to keep all the crown jewels safely away from the hoi polloi, and ECB get to tell the world that they are saving the game, and women’s cricket, and disabled cricket and so on.

(Note – According to the 2018 accounts, the highest paid employee received £604k. In 2019 they received £719k. In 2020 they received £582k. 2021 accounts are not due until 31/10 – they can be earlier – and he is reported, it seems to be receiving a basic salary of £512k). In Harrison’s first two years the highest earner was on £341k and £360k. In Paul Downton’s last year, that number for the highest earner was £290k – if interested here is a link to it all – https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/03251364/filing-history?page=1 ).

Since the high water mark, Harrison has set about county cricket in the same way Liam Gallagher sets about peacemaking with his brother. Making the turkeys vote for Christmas, he and Graves pulled recalcitrant counties into line with bribery and threats. It amazes me, oh well, no it doesn’t that the ECB’s Articles of Association STILL refer to a new Twenty20 tournament to start in 2020, but we’ve been down this line before about how the Hundred was a formatting solution in search of a problem. In doing so, and you know the story, the ECB, guided on this sensitive path by a man with all the subtlety of your average road-builder, various representatives when selling this Hundred revolution insulted county fans as “obsessives”, mums and children as too thick to understand the game in its current form, and promising family friendly fun for 6 hours while the bars will still open. In doing so he created new teams with no roots, players who came from the system he apparantly wants to marginalise, and also laid waste to a schedule so that the current World 50 over champions don’t play it at domestic level, the test team is a sick joke, and all the eggs are in a T20 World Cup basket in alien conditions where a bad half hour can render all planning meaningless.

Since then we have had pundits falling over themselves to call the thing a success, when before the competition, when the ECB were bricking it there was only mention of developing a product, a brand, and the age old scammer’s charter of “long-term engagement” and “raising awareness” with undefined results in public that the old con merchants will set later and meet. Most of these, including pundits long-since bereft of credibility, commentators who appeared to binge on ecstasy before screaming at the populace to be awestruck at another hit-and-giggle fest, paid stooges, laughable social media “influencers”, tweeters we’ll only hear about this time next year, and possibly worst of all, paid “analytical” firms who see this nonsense as a potential entry to flogging their stat-gobbledegook to the IPL.

And boy, there’s a post coming about that lot, so I’m keeping my powder dry there. You are supposedly analysing, not acting as the Hundred’s PR company. The computer-geek equivalent of the know-nothing asking you “who’s winning”. No more.

And then, these people in charge are getting their huge salaries, and they are huge, increased. Having sacked the grunts last year. Having alienated a ton of the core support. Having cast any non-believer into the wilderness and told them to ignore the hundred elephants in the room because it is “not for them”. Having refused to speak to some of the cricket media, because, and I roughly quote “we have given up hope of being given fair coverage by certain media outlets”. They said that to Paul effing Hayward. Hardly a rabble rousing, tabloid lunatic.

These people have crashed and burned, set the fans against each other, claimed that they are the victims of some mad fringe, and then, rewarded themselves with lots of cash to tell them that they were all on the side of right and ability in the end. If I were the new Chairman of the ECB, and having had his experience of consultants and free-loading loudmouths in the procurement arena of the civil service, I wouldn’t just fire this lot, I’d put them in a cannon and fire them into space. Following Clarke and Graves isn’t just going to grant him a honeymoon period – coming on stage after those two should be the definition of an easy ride – but you wouldn’t put it past the head hunted ECB honcho to cock it up. It’s what they do.

Because not only have they done all this sterling groundwork, which Borat couldn’t have scripted, and thought they have been brilliant and innovative in doing so, they then throw out the implied threat, in that charlatan, mealy-mouthed word of “Retention”, that if you don’t pay these magnificent specimens what they deserve, they’ll leave, and their undoubted skills will travel with them, never to be replaced by mere mortals who might actually be able to conduct an interview that isn’t softball and not look like they are confessing to the Great Train Robbery, or not get a quote that they won’t deal with you because you are just so beastly to a magazine edited by a buffoon who once appointed himself number 39 in England’s most important power figures. I like my CEO at work. He turned around a team that were beaten down by an appalling prior regime. I know him well, get on well with him, he respects me, it would be terrible if he left. But leave he will. They all do. And someone takes their place. That is the way of the world. You aren’t paying them to retain them – if the Premier League offered anyone of them a much higher paying role, they’d be gone in a heartbeat. Retention implies a lack of loyalty. A lack of commitment. A lack of long-term thinking. It takes those paying for it, and directly and indirectly, it is us, for mugs. But in the nearly 8 years now since that ill-fated Ashes tour, the ECB have been doing precisely that. We want to retain these people? Can someone give me a good reason why?

At the moment the ECB, the so-called guardian of the game in all its guises, is presiding over a racism case that it seems steadfastly unable, or unwilling, to chivvy along so that the giant ball of poison that it appears to contain can be addressed. Azeem Rafiq is finding out that justice delayed, isn’t simply justice denied, but humanity erased, as Yorkshire get set to hold its first test v India since 2007. Danny is following this a lot more closely and may well add more to this when he does the match report on Thursday (currently according to our schedule) but as someone not as clued up, I see an accused prevaricating and kicking things into the longest grass they can, an accuser being held out to dry, and a governing body earning its bonus by hiding behind the couch, when real leadership would be, frankly, kicking Yorkshire CCC’s heads in. And they moan that someone might not think the Hundred is being reported on fairly, but stay silent over this horror? That’s leadership for you.

Oh, before I forget, to ameliorate some of the more mealy-mouthed in the reporting establishment. Of course a load of people at the ECB do a good job. A lot of them are totally committed, and possibly chronically underpaid and undervalued. Many of them, after last year, are also out of jobs. They deserve our support when necessary, our sympathy when appropriate, We all know who I am talking about. Those at the top who have sold themselves as cricket’s saviours, the heroes and heroines dragging us into the 21st century and beyond, engaging new fans as if the decisions of the past were made by some other body to take the sport, lock, stock and live barrels, off “free to air”, the single most catastrophic mistake made by the body in causing the current participation malaise. They make themselves sound like Red Adair, but they tap dance around the truth like Lionel Blair (other people with that surname, possibly available), scream nonsense like Ric Flair, and have all the moral fortitude of Yogi Bear (was he a coward? or was that Scooby Doo – well they appear not to have a Scooby*, so that works)?

There’s a test match starting tomorrow. You might not know because you were blown away by a tedious couple of Lord’s finals. Mark Nicholas marvelled at Liam Livingstone you know. Anyway, your guess at the line-up for England is as good as mine. Haseeb to open with Burns, Malan at three? Pope at six? Sam Curran keeps his place because everyone else has fallen over. Saqib Mahmood to debut? Don’t get me on the Mark Wood injury – another winner from the medical marvels. Will Joe Root continue to carry more passengers that the Staten Island Ferry? Are India going to change their team. Will they look for another fight, have another few rows, with the England peace corps? Who knows. It’s test cricket, and no-one will be raving about the DJs or other guff.

This has been a rant and a half, and I don’t think I’ve covered half of it. I haven’t mentioned how Chris Silverwood must be thanking his lucky stars all this is going on, because otherwise we might be asking questions about him and his new all-powerful role. Or how Thorpe is doing a great job as batting coach. Or Kohli being an utter arse in the last test. Or bad light. Or how Lord’s makes People’s Monday a great thing and yet still revels in its exclusivity the rest of the time. And that it is treated as a laugh. Or commentary selection. Or how Vaughan appears to be in two Management teams now, so we can double his conflict of interest accusations. Or how BBC promised a new, invigorating approach to the Hundred and gave us Duffers and Torn. Or how Sibley and Crawley have been cast to the wind in favour of magic beans. Or Jos Buttler giving off warning signs. Ben Stokes being out of cricket. The Royal London fighting for survival and being really really good and the charlatans who strangled it want credit for not killing it. The list just bloody goes on.

Oh. I forgot. The Hundred was marvelous for women’s cricket. You have to say that. First because it is true. And second because if you don’t, you clearly have an agenda.

So enjoy the test match, held at the ground of a club suppressing a potentially devastating report into wrongdoing, governed by a board that rewards its senior staff and wants to keep them because clearly they’ve not done enough damage yet, and watched by us. The poor punter who no-one actually, really, gives a flying f*ck about unless they really, really need your money. Pay up and shut up. Flick on the TV, Click on approved social media.

“Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.” David Byrne

*For some readers this is even more gibberish than the rest of this. Scooby Doo = Clue. So not a Scooby means Clueless. Also known as being Alicia. As in the star of the film Clueless.

PS – Not even read the Ali Martin piece today about the players being unhappy. How about sacked staff or current employees. Anyone going to tell their story?

Oh, and I did forget. Comments below on the first day’s play. On a Wednesday. Just because.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test – It’s The Batting, Stupid

Today marks the first time that England have lost a Test series at home since a Sri Lankan team starring Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Matthews beat them in 2014. An historic event, the end of an impressive streak, but one that has been a long time coming.

The England Test team has been scraping series wins for a while now due to just two things: An excellent bowling attack at home, and an abundance of allrounders strengthening their batting. No reasonable person would look at the last seven summers and come to the conclusion that this was a halcyon period for a dominant England side. Here is a table of Test winning percentages at home (including neutral venues for Pakistan and Afghanistan) since the 2017 season:

TeamWinsLossesDrawsWin %
New Zealand1300100%
India121280%
South Africa147067%
Australia132365%
England168457%
Pakistan64250%
Afghanistan22050%
Bangladesh56142%
West Indies67338%
Sri Lanka59133%
Ireland0100%
Zimbabwe0420%

England are, and have been for a while, a mid-tier Test team. To think anything else is just self-delusion. As England is probably the only cricketing nation in which Test cricket is the most popular format, this should be a matter of huge concern for the ECB. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

England simply can’t bat. Not just against spin or in foreign conditions, although those might be particular areas of weakness, but a general and widespread lack of ability and application throughout the team. To put this into context: When England beat India in 2012/13, six of England’s team had Test batting averages which were over 40: Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior and Root (who made his debut in that series). In the last series against India a few months ago, Joe Root was the only one in the whole squad.

It would be easy (and fun) to blame the selectors, but the simple truth is that there aren’t really any county batters making an overwhelming case that they should be in the side. People talk about players like Tom Abell, Joe Clarke, Phil Salt, or Alex Lees, but none of them have a first-class batting average over forty. Every single England-qualified batsman who does has already been tried (with perhaps James Hildreth being the only exception). I don’t follow county cricket closely enough to determine the reasons for this paucity of batting ability. I’ve seen the schedule cited as a possible cause, with fewer games being played in the middle of the season. I would suspect that recruitment plays a part too, with counties perhaps being more inclined to pick white ball specialist batters than they might have been 10-15 years ago. Regardless of the issues, any changes to address this situation might take a decade to feed through to the England team.

England have decided to try and sidestep this by selecting young batters with high potential. Test cricket isn’t an easy place to learn your trade, and it is obviously preferable to begin more or less as the finished article, but players consistently don’t seem to improve once they are in the England dressing room. Sibley and Crawley both made their debut two years ago, and Pope has been in the side for three years. Are any of them noticeably better than they were on debut and, if not, what does that say about England’s coaching?

All of which leads me to the rather depressing conclusion that Joe Root might be the last England Test batter to average over forty for a generation. Maybe more.

If you have any comments about the post, the series, or anything else, please feel free to leave them below.

This Test, Day Five – Slow And Steady Draws The Race

The rain, the slow over rates, and a chief executive’s pitch combined to turn the first Test of the English summer into something of a damp squib. By the end of play, it honestly felt more like a bowling practice session for New Zealand than a full-blooded international.

The morning began as the previous day had finished, with England bowling well and New Zealand hanging in there. The tourists weren’t able to muster quite as much resistance as they had managed in the first innings, with Wagner, Taylor and Nicholls all falling relatively cheaply. This achievement might be mitigated somewhat by the fact that New Zealand were attempting to set a target for England to chase, but all four England bowlers performed very well throughout the second innings.

With the game meandering towards a draw, Kane Williamson briefly livened things up with a declaration at Lunch which left England needing 273 runs from 75 overs (A required rate of 3.64 runs per over, assuming all of the overs were bowled). Unfortunately for everyone watching, neither team seemed to be fully committed to chasing the win. England’s batters accumulated slowly and methodically whilst New Zealand chose not to bring any extra fielders in close, both sides acting like there was a full day to play tomorrow. England had none of their IPL stars who might have been able to provide a Rishabh Pant-like innings, and so the game fizzled out in the final two sessions.

Given the lack of a thrilling climax to the game, I find myself looking to the next Test at Edgbaston and specifically Ollie Robinson’s likely ban/dropping. I strongly believe he should play, and that he should face absolutely no disciplinary measures from the ECB. The first, most obvious reason why he shouldn’t be dropped is that he has played incredibly well in this Test. The best English bowler, and perhaps the third or fourth-best English batter in the whole game. Had he performed as well with the bat and ball as Anderson or Broad did, for example, England would probably have lost this game. There is clearly no justification for him not to play the next match in terms of his performance.

Which brings us to the matter of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. The first thing I would say is that it would be disingenuous to say that they could be used to prove that he genuinely held these views. They seem, at least to me, like clumsy attempts at shock humour; the use of taboo topics to elicit laughter. Jimmy Carr has made a very successful career for himself, mostly on UK national television, covering many of the same subjects. The simple fact is that this brand of humour only elicits laughter if your audience doesn’t believe you actually think that way, because otherwise it turns from a joke into a serious point. The core issue with shock humour, as has been highlighted here (and why I don’t personally do it), is the potential to offend and hurt someone. A few of you might feel inclined to say something about ‘snowflakes’ or being overly sensitive, but I personally consider going out of your way to insult people who have done nothing to deserve it as being the mark of an arsehole.

One issue that might need clearing up is whether the ECB actually has the ability to enforce any punishment if Robinson chose to challenge it. If I was suspended or fired from my job for a tweet I posted seven years before they hired me, I might consider consulting an employment lawyer or a union rep. Whilst this might well depend on the specifics of his contract, it certainly feels somewhat strange to be penalised by an employer for your past, personal conduct in such a way. This might be a moot point though, since the ban could well be unofficial in nature and simply labelled as Robinson being ‘dropped’ or ‘rested’. Because selection in team sports relies on so many factors, it seems like it would be virtually impossible to prove that not being picked in some way breaks employment law. This not only makes it difficult for Robinson to challenge any penalties, official or otherwise, but it also makes it very easy for the ECB to retaliate if he were to do anything other quietly than accept their judgement.

Regardless of all this, I think most people agree that Tom Harrison has handled this matter very poorly. By putting out such a forceful, vehement statement on the subject, Harrison has placed himself and the whole ECB under the spotlight rather than putting the matter to bed. Within a day, links and screenshots of tweets and instagram posts from Eoin Morgan, Sam Billings and Ben Stokes amongst others which could be considered to be mocking Indian cricket fans and they way they speak English (typically their second language).

They look relatively harmless, arguably even being affectionate towards the Indian fans they are imitating, but it seems very likely that these social media posts would never have resurfaced at all (at least for most English cricket fans on Twitter) had Tom Harrison not made such a big deal of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. Now they are faced with the prospect of banning almost half of England’s T20 batting unit or being seen as hypocrites who will only punish expendable players. This could also be just the start, as who knows what other skeletons (real or imagined) might be hiding in the closets of the ECB players’ and staff’s social media history? By any measure, putting your organisation in that kind of position is incredibly bad management.

If Ollie Robinson does miss the next game, as seems likely, the three bowlers who could replace him from the current squad are Jack Leach, Craig Overton, and Olly Stone. Given Overton’s own personal history, it would seem a massive PR own goal for England to pick him even if he is the nearest like-for-like replacement. Choosing Leach would leave England with just three seam bowlers, and so Stone might be the one Chris Silverwood opts for in the end. I’d expect England’s batting to be unchanged, although Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence didn’t impress much in this game.

It might not have been a classic match to watch, but any Test cricket is better than none and forcing a draw against a team who might be World Test Champions in a few weeks is not to be sniffed at. There’s certainly room for improvement at Edgbaston though.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.

Anatomy Of A Hoax

My name is Danny Frankland, and I am responsible for a surprisingly widespread hoax on cricket Twitter (and by now probably several other social media platforms as well). To be precise, I created this image:

It’s the fourth fake statement from the ECB which I have posted on the @OutsideCricket twitter account, but the only one which got out of hand in this way. This is a big reason why the reaction surprised me, as I thought fewer people would be fooled since I’d already pulled the same ‘trick’ three times before. I am The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and yet the villagers appear to keep falling for the same gag. That’s not how I remember the story…

The first fake statement I wrote was in April, after Hampshire’s Lewis McManus managed to dismiss Leicestershire’s Hassan Azad by stumping despite not having the ball in his glove at the time. A clear breach of the ‘Spirit Of Cricket’, and similar to several incidents which have led to lengthy suspensions. On the other hand, Hampshire are one of the counties routinely favoured by the ECB and a cynic such as myself might therefore expect a slap on the wrist. (This turned out to be the case, with a mere three disciplinary points applied to McManus.)

I had recently seen an ECB statement posted on Twitter and noticed that it had a plain background and simple design which would make it child’s play to edit, even with my limited graphic design abilities. I fired up GIMP (Which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and is entirely unrelated to any sexual fetishes) and got to work creating this:

The intent was to satirise the ECB’s expected leniency towards Hampshire by referencing three times where they acted entirely without mercy: The deduction of 24 County Championship points from Somerset for a ‘poor’ pitch, the relegation of Durham due to the county’s financial problems, and the continued unofficial international suspension of Alex Hales after he used recreational drugs in 2019. Clearly the idea that the ECB would punish two teams and a player who were not in any way involved in the fake stumping incident is preposterous and most readers saw it as a joke but it did seem to fool a few people, at least briefly. The official-looking image, the formal wording, plus perhaps not applying their full attention meant that some of our followers missed the joke. The highlight of this was when BBC Radio Solent’s commentator Kevan James started reading it out live on air, only to realise his mistake once he reached the part about Alex Hales.

Most of the reactions to my tweet were positive, enjoying the gag, laughing at those who admitted being tricked, and broadly agreeing with the implication that the ECB doesn’t necessarily treat all teams or players equally. Fun was had by all, and it barely took fifteen minutes to mock up a convincing statement, so obviously I was going do it again. The opportunity came a couple of weeks later when twelve European football clubs decided to try and form their own European Super League. Tweets identifying similarities between the marketing of this nascent competition to the ECB’s The Hundred were flooding my timeline and so I figured, “Surely there’s no better way to explain this than saying that the ECB were behind the whole thing?”

Whilst it was perhaps slightly less improbable than my first effort, I thought the very idea that anyone (much less the ultra-wealthy football clubs behind the ESL) would employ the ECB for their marketing expertise is entirely beyond belief. Nevertheless, this one seemed to catch a few more of our followers out. Perhaps their anger at the ECB or ESL blinded them to the ridiculousness of the situation, or the stunning tone-deafness of the wording. I was particularly pleased with the sentence, “It is no exaggeration to say that the profile of the 12 clubs in terms of social media mentions has never been higher than they are right now, thanks largely to the ECB marketing team.” It really tickled me.

A week after this, the ECB and PCA released a joint statement announcing that they would be taking part in a sports-wide social media boycott in order to protest the lack of consequences for people who post racist and sexist abuse on social media, and in particular those who target sports journalists and players.

This piqued my interest in a couple of ways. First, a joint statement from the ECB and PCA is where this blog got its name. Through clumsy wording, it seemed to suggest that those “outside cricket” (i.e. Anyone who isn’t a professional cricketer, coach or journalist) should not be allowed to criticise the ECB, the England team, nor any of its players or staff. Anything the two organisations do together is going to get my attention. The second, more personal reason is that I absolutely abhor hypocrisy.

Both the ECB and the PCA have a long track record on talking a good game on combatting racism or promoting women’s cricket, often using high-profile tactics like this boycott or flashy videos to promote themselves as champions of equality. Unfortunately, this public facade has no substance to it at all. Every time a racist incident occurs, their reaction is always the same: Hide it, minimise it, (if absolutely necessary) punish the perpetrators incredibly leniently, and then move on with no lasting repercussions for anyone but the people who reported it.

That the ECB would demand social media companies ban racial abusers for life whilst they actually employ at least two such people (The head and assistant coaches for Northern Superchargers’ men’s team) is well beyond the threshold of hypocrisy I can countenance. Another example, and the one I chose to use in my fake statement, is that of England and Somerset bowler Craig Overton.

This one appeared to only fool one of our followers, and I was honestly surprised it managed even that. Both the wording and content were wildly out of character with the ECB. No sports governing body in the world would use the phrase “In hindsight, that looks bad.” in a press release, for example. My intent was less to mimic the real statement and more to highlight the 2014 incident. Because it occurred two years before his England debut, most casual observers haven’t heard about it at all. Overton faced almost no consequences for his actions, with him recieving the same penalty for racial abuse (three disciplinary points) that Ryan Ten Doeschate did for disagreeing with an umpire’s decision. Not only that, he’s gone on to play five games for England and is being touted for a recall this summer.

Which brings us to the fourth statement.

Not unlike the first two statements I produced, I intended to satirise the ECB. This time, my target was their greed and lack of principles. They have a long track record of valuing money over the concerns of cricket fans, with the Sky TV deals being the most obvious example. When it was reported that the BCCI wanted to reschedule the fifth Test to make room for the IPL to resume, Sean messaged me to say that this would be a great time for me to do another of my “fake ECB releases”. It takes just a few minutes to churn one out, so I duly obliged.

The first thing I noticed about the reaction was that a lot more were falling for it. I hadn’t expected that. It was the fourth one I had done, and so I thought most of our followers would realise that it was almost a running gag by this point. In particular, people seemed to instantly see through the previous efforts and get the joke or message behind it. This time, many obviously believed that the ECB would screw over English cricket supporters in exchange for the BCCI’s money and support.

Whilst I thought every single element of the statement was ridiculous and absurd, to the point that it would mark it as a clear knock-off, a significant portion of those who read it seemed to think it was genuine. I don’t think the ECB would move a Test match to October, if only because that would presumably anger Sky Sports. I would very much hope that not refunding your customers when you unilaterally change the dates would be illegal in England. Even I, with my very low opinion of the ECB’s general competence, don’t believe that the ECB would trade away part of their valuable summer merely for an agreement to “reconsider” Indian players participating in The Hundred. The response quietened down after a couple of hours with several replies making clear that it was a joke, and that was the end of that.

Except it wasn’t. Whilst it was relatively docile on the @OutsideCricket Twitter account, it was gaining momentum elsewhere. The impetus appears to be users taking the image and re-uploading it themselves, rather than retweeting the original. This had two key ramifications: People seeing the image for the first time wouldn’t know where the image originally came from (i.e. Not from the ECB), and they wouldn’t see the replies underneath which (correctly) called it out as a fake.

It’s hard to track exactly the route the image took since Twitter doesn’t allow you to search for an image, plus several people deleted their tweets once they realised they’d been had, but some high-profile names posted it: Dan Whiting, ‘Sir Fred Boycott’ and Peter Casterton, amongst many others. As well as borrowing credibility from the people who reproduced the image, it seems that someone is more likely to think it is genuine if it pops up multiple times on social media rather than just coming from a single (arguably disreputable) source.

The statement continued circulating, to the point that Wisden Monthly saw fit to post an article on it. We found this hilarious on several levels. It’s such a non-story, I’m amazed a (presumably) paid journalist took the time to write about it, so it must have beeen a very slow news day. We were all amused by the assertion that I am the person “who runs Outside Cricket”. That would technically be Chris (aka thelegglance), although the organisational structure of BeingOutsideCricket is essentially non-existant. Everyone basically does what they want. I was less amused by the suggestion that my fake statement was “fraught with inconsistencies in text and context”, although I did knock it up in about ten minutes so that is probably fair enough.

Even now, I can’t believe people were taken in by such an obvious fake (at least to me). For one thing, it’s made it clear to me that many people have a significantly lower opinion of the ECB than myself. I honestly don’t believe the ECB would even consider the terms I put in the press release, although maybe I’m wrong to think that. It also showed how little fact-checking some people actually do, even with news which they say is “unbelievable”. If a deal between the ECB and BCCI had been agreed, particularly one with such massive consequences for both countries, it would be the top news story in both the Indian and English cricket media. Every cricket website, every cricket magazine, every blue-ticked cricket journalist and player would be talking about nothing else. It wouldn’t just be a single image posted from a handful of Twitter accounts.

I hope that those who were fooled, either momentarily or for a little longer, learn from their experience and become more questioning of news in the future. Even supposedly reliable sources of information, such as professional journalists or the ECB, often put out misleading or incorrect statements. It honestly feels like around half of the posts I have published on this website, excluding match reports, are on that very topic. Many journalists are in fact stenographers, people who will simply copy what others tell them without engaging in any critical thought. It might be due to deadline pressure, or a desire to maintain access, or plain stupidity which causes it. Regardless, I would love it if people were more cynical about what they read.

As I have no doubt caused several people at the ECB at least some mild discomfort with my little joke, it only seems fair to give them the final word:

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

The overnight news about the proposed football European Super League will have caused many a wry smile from cricket followers up and down the country. All the usual words and phrases are in there – “stakeholders” will be consulted, it’s about “partnerships”, a “sustainable commercial approach” and not forgetting “solidarity”. A copy and paste of corporate gaslighting and bullshit meaning little except for a power grab and a desire to enrich themselves yet further and remove the jeopardy that is the essence of sport.

Football is a vastly bigger and wealthier game than cricket, and as such the response is magnitudes higher, but the arguments are the same, the objections are the same, and the lack of any interest in what the little people think is just the same. We’ve been here time and again, and we will see the same degree of pretence that it’s for the good of “the game” (another reminder that those in power only mean the game as it pertains to them, not the game itself) and that it’s nothing other than trying to secure the financial stability of the sport.

Where football differs is that this has attracted the attention and the ire of the politicians, who never fail to sport a point of votes principle on which to opine. To that extent, football fans are luckier. When both the ICC and ECB, internationally and domestically decide to put aside matters of sporting integrity in favour of filthy lucre, there is a deafening silence from all but a very few. Cricket doesn’t particularly matter, and certainly doesn’t matter to enough. Football does.

But the same set of parameters apply – that sport is a means of generating money rather than the other way around, and it’s both reflective of the reality in which we live and also a governance question that has never been addressed. It has been said before that the most dangerous foe any sport can face is a man (always a man) in a suit saying “I can help”. Yet there’s also the endless hypocrisy about it all. Sky News has spent much of the morning decrying the greed involved and parading their new found commitment to tradition and sporting values over dollars and euros – a quite breathtaking demonstration of rank hypocrisy. Should it go ahead and Sky win the broadcast contract, expect a rapid reverse ferret from their news channel to promote it as the greatest sporting invention since the round ball. Likewise, while Gary Neville’s monologue about the tradition of the game is helpful for all those opposed to the Super League, he’s one of those who has benefitted heavily from the concentration of power and resources in the hands of the few. His part ownership of Salford City is the same in microcosm – invested money making a team competitive above the level it would otherwise be – not a thing wrong with that, except the selectivity involved in deciding what is morally acceptable and what isn’t.

Football and cricket are different in so many respects, not least that football clubs have always been rapaciously commercial for a century or more. A quick look at the origins of many of the leading clubs shows very little has changed – all of the so called “traditional” big teams have become that way due to heavy owner investment at different times in the past. Just like cricket, this is nothing more than the logical culmination of a direction of travel that has been in place for decades. Few of those furious today strongly objected to the abolition of gate sharing in the 1980s, nor when directors were first allowed to take money out of the clubs around the same time, let alone the creation of the Premier League which was also sold as being for general benefit rather than personal enrichment. Some greed is apparently fine, it’s only when it goes to the next level that it’s something to object to.

But this is a cricket blog, not a football one, so those arguments can be had elsewhere. The relevance to cricket is only in the parallels, in the way that the ECB have tried, with rather less competence, to move the sport into the same frame with the same kinds of outcomes. While sports are different, the determination to force them down the same path to maximise (in the short term, it should be noted) revenues and ameliorate the bank balances of those already in positions of power is entirely the same. Franchise football with no promotion and relegation removes the essence of any sporting system, namely that teams can rise or fall on their sporting merits (and financial management plays a major role in that). But it is anaethema to investors, who wish to see a return on their down payment with certainty, something that sport is inherently bad at – which is why we watch it.

The Hundred is the cricketing equivalent of the European Super League in these ways. Ignore for now the format – it’s always been the least of the objections anyway – a fixed number of teams able to compete each year with no danger of dropping out is precisely the golden goose for sporting investors. As long as the competition thrives, it’s a one way bet, an almost literal licence to print money. The difference is the serious doubt about the level of interest outside of a pandemic year where the public are desperate for anything to watch, which is why as well as a curse for the ECB’s finances, 2021 is also a golden opportunity to embed a structure that the supporters in general loathe. The IPL and the NFL are models for owners of sports franchises to wish to expand into other areas – irrespective of the latter having various safeguards built in to try to maintain a level playing field. Indeed, the IPL perhaps more so is the perfect template to follow, whereby sport as entertainment in the same way as WWE is the aim and the intention.

The European Super League faces a lot of hurdles to overcome – the hostility from football supporters matters far more than the hostility from cricket ones, because packed grounds are more essential to football than to domestic cricket which doesn’t have that tribal following to anything like the same extent. There will be those who suddenly discover it’s not such a bad thing after all when they realise there is scope for personal professional advancement, and that’s not in itself an unreasonable position to adopt because everyone needs to look out for themselves. But it doesn’t mean everyone else has to fall in line, nor that they have to accept the worldview espoused that is nothing other than self-interest on the part of those doing so – indeed all the Super League needs now is people to come out and say this new competition isn’t aimed at traditional supporters. Some of those who advocate exactly this for cricket have been quick to decry it happening in football – don’t think for a second it hasn’t been noticed.

India, The IPL, And The Hundred

When reports of the ECB seeking private investors in The Hundred were being published by a number of newspapers and website last May, I wrote a quick post on why that would be a stupid idea called The Hundred For Sale. Now that there appears to be speculation around IPL owners and the BCCI being brought in, with the ECB apparently hoping to tap into the vast Indian cricket fanbase, it seems a good idea to write a follow-up piece detailing the problems with this specific proposal.

The proposals mentioned in The Telegraph article are:

  • The BCCI to receive a portion of The Hundred’s TV revenue from Asia in exchange for allowing Indian men’s cricketers to play in the competition. (It seems likely that they will allow India’s women cricketers to play abroad without any concessions, as they already do in the Australian Big Bash League)
  • The owners of the eight current IPL teams to be allocated a 25% share of a team in The Hundred, in exchange for an investment.
  • Exhibition games involving IPL teams to be hosted by English counties.

The first question the ECB and counties might ask is how much would a Indian TV deal for The Hundred involving some Indian players realistically be worth? One hugely important factor to consider would be timezones: India Standard Time is 4.5 hours ahead of England’s British Summer Time. This means that a 2.5 hour game (The planned duration for a game in The Hundred) which starts at 6.30pm in England would finish at the equivalent of 1.30am in India. Even if stars like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ravi Jadeja were all playing, it seems unlikely that tens of millions of Indians would stay up that late. The ECB could choose to start matches earlier (swapping with the women’s games so that the men’s games began at 2.30pm, for example), which would put them into Indian prime time but during work hours in England. That almost certainly lead to fewer tickets sold, fewer British people watching on TV, and the ECB having to deal with a very annoyed Sky and BBC.

It would also be wise the temper expectations about which Indian players would come in the event of the BCCI allowing them to do so. The IPL has essentially created a global gap in the cricket calendar, allowing both their own and other internationals to play in the tournament unimpeded. The Hundred has no such luxury, with even England men’s cricketers playing two Tests during the competition. There is absolutely no guarantee that India won’t have matches scheduled during the competition, which would eliminate most of India’s biggest stars from contention.

The relatively low pay might also discourage the top echelon of Indian T20 players from choosing to play in The Hundred. Virat Kohli receives roughly £1.7m per year to play for Royal Challengers Bangalore, but the most he could get from Welsh Fire is £110,000 (assuming he was captain). For virtually anyone in the current Indian team, that’s not an amount of money which would in any way justify spending a month in Cardiff. Players on the fringes of the Indian team like Axar Patel or Umesh Yadav might be interested, but they wouldn’t have sufficient star power to generate financial gains for the ECB in terms of Indian TV deals or additional ticket sales.

Selling shares of the eight The Hundred teams to IPL owners would also be a mistake. To quote ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, “The key is that any money generated remains in cricket, for the good of all sections of the game”. Investors understandably expect a profit, and so would be looking to take as much money as possible out of English cricket. If their priority is to make as much money as possible, the ECB’s other objectives might have to be sidelined. You wouldn’t expect the owners of Chennai Super Kings to care if cricket participation numbers in Sheffield were decreasing, for example, whilst Yorkshire CCC might. Similarly, outside investors might demand higher ticket prices to increase revenue or a reduction in on-field entertainment to reduce costs.

Having Indian investors having stakes in individual teams could also cause problems between the ECB and the counties. Right now, most of the revenue in terms of ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorship and the TV rights is shared equally between all 18 counties in the form of a £1.3m annual payment. Essentially, the ECB owns all eight teams and only delegates the management to the various counties. Because of this, it almost doesn’t matter which county is associated with which team in The Hundred. Three of the eight teams are run by three counties, four of them by two counties, and Manchester Originals are solely controlled by Lancashire CCC. If the ECB turned them into franchises, with 25% ownership from Indian investors, then all of a sudden Lancashire CCC might have a 75% stake in a team whilst Glamorgan CCC might only have 25%.

The eight teams also have significantly different prospects in terms of profitability and revenue. The Oval Invincibles will play in a 25,500 capacity stadium which invariably sells out all of its T20 Blast games, whilst Welsh Fire will play at a ground which holds a maximum of 15,643 people and in reality struggles to sell even half that many tickets. If team stakeholders get a share of ticket, food and other merchandise revenue then they’d be fools not to want the Oval Invincibles team.

Beyond money, bringing the BCCI and IPL owners into positions of power in English cricket might place the ECB in a very uncomfortable ethical position. It’s escaped few people’s notice that the IPL has the best T20 cricketers from around the world with the sole exclusion of Pakistan. Just one Pakistan international has played in the IPL in the last decade (Azhar Mahmood, 2012-15). If the BCCI were to allow Indian players in The Hundred, it seems doubtful that they would be happy to see them playing alongside Pakistani overseas players. The ECB could be in a position where they would either have to accept this or call it out, which would likely have the effect of the BCCI withdrawing their support.

One of the aims of The Hundred was to engage British Asians, who are significantly more likely to enjoy watching and playing cricket than the ‘average’ Brit but might feel a stronger connection to domestic and national teams outside England. What people often gloss over is that ‘British Asian’ covers a broad swathe of nationalities, religions and other divisions, and that they don’t all necessarily get on with each other. For example, Moeen Ali was constantly booed at his home ground of Edgbaston when playing for England against India in 2014. As it stands, the ECB might be seen as broadly neutral in any internecine rivalries (by virtue of doing absolutely nothing). If they were to endorse the exclusion of one nation’s players to appease another’s, that might also have the effect of excluding a large number of potential fans who they were hoping to attract.

As far as the third proposal regarding exhibition games at grounds like the Oval goes, it’s not inherently ridiculous. Rajasthan Royals played Middlesex Panthers in 2009, for example. That said, I think any IPL team would struggle to assemble anywhere near its full roster for a few games in England in September and almost all of their stars would be missing due to either international commitments or plain lack of interest. The larger issue might be the BCCI, who would probably be more inclined to host such a competition in India rather than allowing an English ground to profit from the IPL’s brand.

Whilst I would love for Indian players to be available for all domestic competitions around the world, as they are from every other country, the costs of doing so for The Hundred seem to far, far outweigh the benefits.

If you have any comments about this post, the ODIs, or anything else, please post them below.

The Day After the Day After Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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