R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (Sock it to me, Sock it to me)

Greetings pop pickers, and welcome to the hit parade of the best insults directed at cricket supporters by the cricket authorities and their media cheerleaders.  Call them supporters, cricketers, county members, amateurs – are they worth having a go at?  Not half!  Let’s get on with the countdown…

10) Ticket to Ride – The Beatles

Straight in to the top ten with Graeme Swann’s stirring anthem about Test match prices.  Not for him an awareness of the expense incurred by those paying his wages.  Not for him a sensible silence when not knowing how much a ticket costs.  Instead he piped up expressing surprise at the cost of attending, saying he was shocked to discover it was (then) almost £100 to go, and that he’d thought it was only “about £20”.  Derision swiftly followed.

9) Bills – Lunch Money Lewis

Hungry?  Feel like a nice meal?  Well, you’re out of luck.  You can spend an hour queueing up for soggy chips and a crappy burger and pay £15 for the privilege.  Don’t bother trying to around lunchtime though, that’ll take an hour or so.  If you want a beer as well, that’s a different queue.  Could be an hour there too, so that £100 you’ve spent on a ticket in London looks really good value when you miss the play you’ve paid for – you can even spend the time queueing working out the draining finances.  But fear not, for the Twitter account of Lords’ will be there to remind you of the fine dining options the players receive, and the equally delightful catering the press corps get.  It’s just what you want to see as you contemplate a diminishing wallet and a drooping excuse for a sandwich, comparing the image on your phone with the painful and largely inedible reality.

8) My Generation – The Who

Those who have given their lives over to cricket might feel that they deserve a bit of credit.  Those who play a game for no other reason than they love it might believe they should be left alone.  Those who give up their time to prepare pitches, decorate and maintain pavilions, organise teams, create youth sections and do all the enormous quantities of work involved in club cricket could feel there’s nothing wrong with them also picking up a bat and wandering out to the middle.  But they’d be wrong and Nasser Hussain was quick to tell them so, in the usual manner of Sky and the ECB aligning their stars perfectly.  Such “old fogeys” need to get out of the game according to him, they’re blocking the young players.  That there wouldn’t actually be any club cricket without the old fogeys doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.  Nor that people outside the professional game play because they want to.  The Scots have a phrase that answers this kind of argument, and it starts “get tae…”.

7) Stupid Girl – Garbage

If coming up with an idea that those who love the game consider pretty stupid to begin with, it helps to have the message alongside it a good one.  It probably isn’t best practice to first tell all those who buy tickets that it isn’t for them, second patronise half the population with the phrase “mums and kids” and third go for the ultimate in telling that minority majority that they’re making it vastly more complex simplifying things just for them.  Andrew Strauss’s extraordinarily clumsy justification for ripping up the game of cricket in this country and replacing it with another format went down like a cup of warm sick with those being addressed.  Mums and kids might be too dense to understand cricket as it stands, but they weren’t so dim they couldn’t spot they were being talked down to.  Women – know your place!

6) We Are Family – Sister Sledge

You can’t be US President unless you’re born in the USA.  This is a restriction that bothers most people not at all, given few have such an aspiration, but even less knew that there is also a barrier to being England captain that doesn’t involve, you know, being good at cricket.  The Odious Giles Clarke was quick to raise the bar by stating that in Alastair Cook, “he and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be.”  Horrendous plebs like the vast majority of the English population need not apply.

5) The Flood – Take That

The ECB don’t leak.  You’ve been told, time and again.  By them, admittedly, and not by anyone else.  But they don’t leak, they don’t give primers to journalists, and they keep schtum at all times.  That the outcome of Kevin Pietersen’s meeting with Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss was being broadcast by Jonathan Agnew within minutes of it taking place must have happened by osmosis.  That the “South-African-born-middle-order-batsman” (unlike Strauss himself, naturally) also had his private letter to Hugh Morris released to the press can’t possibly have happened.  That then England coach Peter Moores had to sit and watch England play Ireland while everyone knew he was being sacked definitely wasn’t an example of a leak.  Because the ECB don’t leak.  Ever.

4) Don’t You Want Me – Human League

Tom Harrison is a kind of anti-thesaurus, whereby he considers all the possible words that could be used and resolutely chooses the wrong one.  A sillynym, if you like.  Most sports revel in their most dedicated acolytes, or at the very least pretend to pay them respect while counting the money that they pump in to the game to allow the administrators a decent supply of bourbon biscuits for their Very Important Meetings.  But not for him such lip service, not for the great man a recognition of the time and effort they put in to backing a game they adore.  No, no, they’re a barrier, a problem.  And thus can be safely termed “obsessives” instead.  Cricket is entirely unique in considering the game itself to be a problem, and those who love it most to be a big part of that problem rather than an important element to build upon.  It’s just one word, but once again it’s the wrong one, and once again cricket refuses to celebrate its own adherents but instead kicks them in the balls (women don’t count as we know) and screams at them not to get up again.

3) I Only Wanna Be With You – Dusty Springfield

Most sports have suffered from the rise of Marketing Speak – the unmitigated bollocks spouting from the executives in place of anything meaningful, and the endless use of the term “stakeholders” in cricket is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of anyone getting progressively more fed up with every hopeless pronouncement.  But the ECB, as is their wont, go a bit further, by forgetting the supporters and amateur players each time they offer it up.  Ashley Giles came up with a good example with “We should show we have pride in playing cricket for England, that we respect everyone: all our stakeholders, sponsors, the media”.  Ah yes, sponsors and the media.  They’re the ones to talk about.  Especially post a shambolic World T20 where England stank the place out and supporters went nuts at the displays on offer.  As ever with ECB people, it’s not just what they say, it’s when they choose to say it, and who they are talking to.  Those awful little people can be safely ignored.

2) Don’t Blame it on the Sunshine – The Jackson Five

You can always rely on Colin Graves to put his foot in it.  Whether it be calling England’s opposition “mediocre” right before they hand out a thrashing, threatening counties for not acknowledging his greatness, or leading players up the garden path and encouraging them to give up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of contracts before delivering a slap; he manages to say the wrong thing at the wrong time without exception.  So it was that he justified the impending Hundred with the immortal phrase “The younger generation, whether you like it or not, are just not attracted to cricket”.  It’s not that he’s entirely wrong, for everyone involved in the game has the same concerns, it’s the sheer chutzpah in refusing to recognise that the organisation he heads up is largely responsible for the damn thing in the first place – making the game entirely invisible to the wider public by hiding it behind a pay wall may not have been the best method of encouraging people to get involved.  To pipe up at exactly the same time as the ECB launched their latest All Stars Cricket aimed at the young was a superb example of telling everyone working hard at the lower levels that they were wasting their time doing so.

1) Let’s Go Outside – George Michael

It’s not all bad – after all it stopped us racking our brains for a name for this place.  But the ECB/PCA joint statement in the aftermath of the Kevin Pietersen sacking remains the high point in the long list of putting down the oiks who dare to object to the way the game is run.  It was two little words that did the damage, referring in parentheses to those “outside cricket” who had dared to be critical.  The defence made following the furious reaction to the statement was that it was clearly referring to Piers Morgan in particular, which remains a perfect example of how the professional game fails to get it.  Morgan is far from being everybody’s cup of tea, but the point was that since he goes to cricket and plays cricket at club level, if he is “outside cricket” then so is everyone else.  As a case study in how the professional game sneers at all those not in it, it has never been bettered.

Baby, I Got It.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDIT:

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

Uncomfortable Realisations and Undeniable Truths

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Circular Firing Squad

Sometimes it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that the ECB  appears to actively dislike its own sport.  It’s also easy to think they are deliberately and specifically trying to kill county cricket, particularly in its four day format.  It’s one of those thoughts that passes through a mind, dismissed as ludicrous, but re-appearing with every new announcement that appears intended to do exactly that.  The Hundred, the marginalisation of the county championship to the edges of the season (and a rather odd celebration in some quarters when a couple of fixtures are not at those margins), the apparently deliberate disdain for its existing audience.  The notion seems preposterous, but if it were to happen, it’s hard to believe the attempt would be done much differently to the way it is now.

There needs to be some full disclosure here:  I am not and never have been a passionate adherent of county cricket – it’s been a matter of relative indifference to me except as a pathway to the international sides, while club cricket was always my focus, with a healthy (or unhealthy depending on who you speak to) disdain for the conduct of the counties over the years.  To that extent, I don’t have an emotional bond to that strata of the game, more a recognition of how vital it is as a cog in the larger wheel, albeit one that could have been managed rather differently over the last fifty years.

And yet, at the same time, I also recognise how much it matters to many others, not least the other writers on this site, who have been spectators at many more games than I have, and who care about the tables and outcomes far more than I do.  That’s just me, I don’t defend it, and I don’t propound it, it’s just how it is.  And yet the finalisation of the format of the Hundred, to start the year after next, remains a subject to stoke my ire, due to the sheer arrogance of its creation and the dismissal of any opposition to it as somehow irrelevant.  Few businesses can survive with such a lofty view of those who might attend, and since the ECB have gone down the route of being a pseudo-business in the first place, it’s a fair stick with which to beat them.  New audiences are all very well, but existing ones are much easier to keep than winning brand new ones – indeed creating an entirely new market would be considered as nigh on impossible in equivalent circles.

Here, a reminder of why the Hundred is deemed necessary is worthwhile.  There is already a T20 tournament in place, but the deal with Sky for exclusive rights to it meant that there was no chance of any of it being free to air.  And the ECB have belatedly realised that their decision to remove any visibility for the sport has had catastrophic effects – the plummeting participation levels being one obvious result.  Therefore a second competition was necessary, one that could be sold to free to air television, at least in part, while also flogging it off to pay TV for more money.  I say sold, but the rumours are that the BBC are picking it up for peanuts, so desperate are the ECB to at least have some degree of public awareness it’s going on.

Having decided that a second short form competition is essential, the ECB were faced with a couple of problems – firstly to shorten it somewhat (although it should be noted that in all the early announcements it was stated to be a T20 competition, and presumably the BBC knew it), and second to give it at least some differentation from the Blast.  Hence the mad scramble for something shorter and with different playing conditions.  Likewise, the franchise idea came about by noting how other countries had fewer teams to make it work, and as a rather useful way of bypassing the counties themselves, given the feeling that 18 sides is too many.  An irony here is that in football, the very strength of the game in England is that there are so many teams – something other countries view with envy.  For cricket here it is deemed a problem, and not an opportunity.

Naturally, a smaller competition means that brand new teams need to be created, and thus the desire for city based franchises came along, preferably with a ready made audience who might affiliate with the urban centres in which they were based.  The trouble was, it was still going to be just another T20 tournament, and one that might even make sense as a financial centrepiece, were it not for there already being a competition in place that provided that.  So why not fiddle around with all the rules and make it “simpler” through various initiatives to render it vastly more complex?  And here we are with the Hundred, a format no one really wants, and no one asked for, all to fit around a succession of requirements forced on the ECB by their own actions and their own long term goal.

The confirmation of five or ten ball “overs” to fit the decimal headline number smacks entirely of trying to force a game into a title, and while it is hardly sacrilegeous to change the number of balls (8 ball overs were a thing for many years – indeed in order to shorten what became T20 many clubs have for years played 15 x 8 ball overs in evening leagues), it is the attempt to present a solution to a mathematical problem of their own making as somehow revolutionary that generates sarcastic responses.

Still, it’s going to happen, and despite the self-imposed strait-jacket, it will doubtless cause some initial interest, simply as something new, and as an event.  It may even catch on, given that the pressure from gambling broadcasters and governing bodies for ever shorter and more numerous forms of cricket is certainly there – as evidenced with T10 tournaments.  If it does, then the question of what happens to the T20 Blast will come up, for that competition can be seen as something of an barrier to what the ECB wish to achieve here – sidelining the annoying self-interested counties and producing a competition that can attract international attention for the benefit of the self-interested ECB.  It’s easy to be sceptical about the ECB’s motives (usually because being sceptical about their motives proves the correct attitude), but the current season structure is not going to be sustainable in the long term, and the creation of franchises moves the professional game in the direction that the avaricious will far prefer.

The other fly in the ointment is the county championship itself.  Although it ought to be a proving ground for Test cricket, the changing nature of Test cricket itself (and the selection of short form specialists to the team) has rendered it less vital in the eyes of those who must be obeyed.  It’s a nuisance – it takes too long, the crowds are small, and the counties need to be subsidised to play in it.  Why would anyone want such a competition when there’s so much money to be made elsewhere?  Thus, the heart of the season has been given over almost entirely to limited overs matches of one form or another, whether domestic or international, with the annoying red ball cricket kept out of the way, like an embarrassing uncle.  Some might argue that it could be nurtured and helped, a format of cricket that needs assistance rather than contempt, but this is not the way the ECB do things.

Having in 2018 created a fixture list that managed to avoid any cricket on a bank holiday (people might go along and watch – can’t have that), for 2019 they have gone the extra mile, avoiding any matches at the weekend where possible, and ensuring that those who work for a living won’t have a chance of getting along to see any play.  The sarcasm is justified, because there are only two possibilities here – firstly that the ECB are so completely incompetent that arranging fixtures at a time people might be able to go is something they’ve never considered, or that it is deliberate.  Despite the feeling that ineptitude is written into the ECB’s mission statement, they can’t possibly be that lacking in basic ability, so it can only be on purpose.  A deliberate decision to make the county championship even less accessible to spectators.  A deliberate decision to make membership of a county even less attractive.  A deliberate decision to turn away people who love the game.

Those who go and watch county cricket might be relatively few in number compared to other sports, but they are also very often the people involved in grass roots cricket, administrators and volunteers – those whose passion for the game exceeds the casual spectator by orders of magnitude.  They get laughed at and belittled, including by some members of the press, let alone the ECB who are supposed to be on the same damn side, but these people have a disproportionate value to the game that goes far beyond them sitting isolated under a blanket at New Road.  All ignored.  All treated with contempt.

This scornful attitude is why those who insist the Hundred is given a chance are missing the point.  It’s not that it can’t succeed, it’s not even that it won’t succeed, for even some free to air live coverage has a chance of generating interest far beyond the niche sport cricket currently is.  It is that the ECB really do not care about taking those who love the game with them.  They have no interest in trying to manage the 21st century commercial realities with the responsibilities that their supposed husbandry of the game of cricket in England and Wales ought to instil.  The dash for cash is the primary aim, the actual game of cricket a cipher, not the end in itself.

Those who play up and down the country are irrelevant.  Those who love cricket for the sake of the game they grew up with are irrelevant, unless they can be switch-sold and monetised.  The game of cricket itself is irrelevant, it is merely a means.  And that is the reason for the anger, not messing around with the rules, not trying to square a circle that wouldn’t be easy in any circumstances.  It’s that they don’t care about you, they don’t care about me.  That you played the game all your life is no more than a footnote, that you watch the game only of value in so far as you can be added up in revenue stream.

The ECB.  The only sports governing body that regards the game for which they are responsible as a hindrance to their aims.

Circling the Drain

Has there ever been a more low key build up to a major Test series? As English cricket continues to search for new ways to obliterate any goodwill it once had, and Australian cricket views the comedy W1A as a handbook for how to impress people, it’s easy to forget there is a Test series around the corner in Sri Lanka. The ODIs were sufficiently pointless to lower the bar of contractual obligation fixtures still further, particularly given the blithe excuses for scheduling them in the wet season, but now we come to a Test series that appears to have largely passed even cricket supporters by.

The strange thing about that is that Sri Lanka has always been one of the favourites for followers of the England team, and doubtless there will be impressive numbers of England supporters at the grounds, but the continuing tribulations around governance in both countries are of greater import than the games themselves. When a sport spends more time navel-gazing than playing, it’s a crisis.

Where to even begin with this? The unwelcome headlines around match fixing are one thing, the ECB managing to look indifferent and oblivious are another, testament to their uncanny ability to make any situation worse. The claims might seem a bit thin, but that doesn’t mean that lofty disdain is the right response.

The rumblings around the dog’s breakfast that is the Hundred continue, with the latest potential wheeze being the idea of selling off franchises. Quite why anyone would want to stump up serious money for a competition that has had such a hostile response, and which the ECB have marketed with the sure touch of Gerald Ratner hasn’t been explained, but if nothing else it points to a concern that the money-spinner the ECB claimed it would become isn’t likely to come true.

There are reports that the cost of its operation has now spiralled to £40m a year, a figure that beggars belief, and when added to the subsidy to the counties, it’s more like £70m a year. No wonder the idea of selling it off is now an attractive one – a shortfall needs to be made up.

Of course, a franchise system further erodes any semblance of fan loyalty to the teams, and having made it abundantly clear that the competition isn’t for existing supporters (deliberately telling your customer base to foxtrot oscar remains one of the most extraordinary things a governing body has ever done) we still don’t know who, if anyone, is likely to come and watch. Empty grounds are perhaps the biggest risk to the whole event, not initially (everyone rubber necks a car crash) but in terms of the viability over a few years.

Still, if it doesn’t work the ECB will happily change it – their inability to leave the cricket calendar alone for more than a year at a time is exceptional – but the amount of money already sunk into the thing and committed further is frightening. No business would dream of operating this way and expecting success.

Being committed to a particular approach and sticking to it no matter what is sometimes admirable, but this is seriously going out on a limb, and while expressing disbelief at the ECB has now surpassed cricket itself as a national sport, the worst part of the whole affair is that those who love cricket are placed in the unenviable position of being worried that the Hundred doesn’t work, not that it does. The potential for calamitous failure is now so high, and the consequences so dangerous, that it is a complete unknown what the fallout might be.

The upside is that the game will survive, by ironic virtue of the rather limited support to the grassroots the ECB has provided anyway, but here too the danger signs have been long flashing. Sunday cricket is in crisis, player participation levels reached desperation levels some years ago and the decline shows little sign of abating.

There are efforts to try to support it, club networks to allow players to get a game for example. They are laudable, but that they are deemed necessary is in itself a symbol of the mess the game is in. The biggest problem of all is the inability to see a way out of it. For all the fury at the invisibility of the sport to the public, the grotesque mismanagement of the game by the ECB itself, we are now in a position where the options are narrowing by the day. Perhaps the tipping point will only come when those involved at the highest level start seeing their own incomes under threat, and we are some way off that.

If the ECB’s incompetence is a benchmark few can match, Cricket Australia appear to be doing their damnedest to try. If nothing else, they do appear to have a better grasp of business realities than their English counterparts, but they too are afflicted by the drift away from criticism and towards mockery. The board level machinations are one thing, the ludicrous way the national team is disappearing up its own backside while maintaining an air of staggering pomposity is another.

If elite mateship hadn’t been received with sufficient hilarity, to double down and highlight elite honesty ensured many an aching side. Perhaps it was directed at David Warner, who threw his toys out of the pram when someone dared to sledge him, or perhaps it was directed at the ACA who are pushing for the return of those banned for ball tampering. The punishments for something that has gone on for years (though rarely with such ineptitude) seemed harsh at the time; to try to undo them afterwards is magnificently brazen, particularly with South Africa in town.

And I haven’t even mentioned how WADA are likely to deem cricket non-compliant. Marvellous.

And so we have some cricket on the way. For all the craven disdain for our game that those determined to exploit it for their own ends, the sport itself remains special. Cricket does not deserve the loyalty it receives from those who love it, seeing them as a revenue stream not the marketing team they really are – dedicated missionaries who wish to see it succeed. Those people will watch, buy tickets, travel to watch the team, as I am doing in the West Indies this winter. But patience is being tested to the limit, repeatedly.

It’s not yet too late. But my God we’re getting close.

The ECB: What is it Good For (Say it again)?

The Board and management team have considered the short and long-term goals of the business in order to support and grow the grassroots game while continuing to strive for success at the elite level with our 24 England teams.

Mission statements can be little more than a sop to marketing necessity, and often bear little relation to what is actually happening in a given sport. Put simply, the role of any organisation that is accredited as the supreme authority for a sport is to act as the guardian of the game, both in the present and the future, in order to ensure it is in good shape for future generations. To that end, the short paragraph above encapsulates rather well what a governing body should strive to achieve, particularly in a commercial world where obtaining financial support for the elite level is an exceptionally important part of what they must do.

The trouble is, this one belongs to the FA.

The ECB does have an equivalent, called Cricket Unleashed, that has five “central pillars” to their intentions. Somewhat ironically, the link defines itself as being in the Men’s section of the ECB’s website, which is both unfortunate and wryly amusing given that when someone tells them they’ll be aghast. The strategy makes interesting reading both in terms of the in depth objectives and the broader aims behind it, particularly when measured against what is actually going on:

More Play

The ECB will make the game more accessible and inspire the next generation of players, coaches, officials and volunteers, with a particular focus on families and the young.

Great Teams

The ECB will deliver winning men’s and women’s teams across the international and domestic spectrum that inspire and excite fans through on-field performance and their connection with the public on and off the field.

Inspired Fans

The fan will be at the heart of our game, our thinking and our events, to improve and personalise the cricket experience for all.

Good Governance & Social Responsibility

The ECB will make decisions in the best interests of the game and use the power of cricket to make a positive difference to communities around England and Wales. Protecting the integrity of our sport is critical and we will ensure we have the right governance and processes to achieve that.

Strong Finance & Operations

The ECB will increase the game’s revenues, invest our resources wisely and administer them responsibly to secure the growth of the game.

So far so good. For if a little PR orientated, it provides a benchmark against which the ECB can and should be measured in terms of their own performance and their aspirations. It can’t be denied that as a set of principles, it’s not too bad. There are clearly some clauses inserted to ensure that no one can possibly point out a gap, but that is the modern world, and no bad thing provided that is adhered to, even in part. The question is whether they do, or in some instances whether they even try.

More Play

The ECB will make the game more accessible and inspire the next generation of players, coaches, officials and volunteers, with a particular focus on families and the young.

It’s always been said that the trick of public relations is to get the big lie out of the way in the headline or title – the German Democratic Republic, the Department of Trade and Industry are two examples. Certainly “More Play” would be a positive, yet all the evidence points in the other direction. The ECB have stopped publishing detailed information on participation levels in England and Wales, presumably because they kept showing disastrous falls. One clever wheeze was to start combining the figures of both men and women, which given the rise of female cricket (and here, it must be acknowledged that the ECB have done well, and much as it might grate, perhaps the biggest advocate for it was the otherwise Odious Giles Clarke) has successfully masked to some extent the catastrophic collapse in male participation. Most figures go as far as 2016 so it is always possible that the last two years have seen the trend reversed, however unlikely. Snapshots may have different methodologies, so can’t be compared with the most comprehensive survey available over the last decade, which demonstrated a fall in the numbers of active participants of a quite horrifying 35%. The decline amongst youth players isn’t remotely as marked, but few sports are faced with such a collapse in interest and participation as cricket over that period.

Sport England’s Active People Survey shows a similar level of decline over the same period, albeit with different numbers, also demonstrating that some sports have performed well, and others badly. Cricket is unquestionably one of those that have performed badly, even more so given the rise in women playing to complicate the overall picture. Yet if the figure of just under 2 million women playing football once a week is accurate, then it amounts to approximately seven times as many women playing football as men playing cricket. That can be claimed to be a huge success for women’s sport (and is) but it also highlights rather acutely the problem cricket has, particularly when a fall from just under half a million cricketers to just over a quarter of a million is taken into account. Of course, that doesn’t mean for a second that growing the game shouldn’t be an aspiration, just the opposite, but the record of the ECB in the 21st century hasn’t been a good one, and the removal of cricket from free to air television does coincide with the fall in playing numbers. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, yet it is hard not to draw conclusions from the way the game has struggled for interest at the same time as it was removed from public sight. There is far too much corroboratory evidence to contradict the view that cricket, once one of the three major team sports in the country, is now a minority pursuit in every sense.

Within the body of the clause is a desire to make the game more accessible, and a particular focus on families and the young. This is part of the justification for the Hundred, and indeed reflects a lot of the statements made by various ECB officials in its support. The ECB’s own market research has indicated the cricket simply isn’t on the radar of children, with no recognition either of the game or the key players in the national team. The trouble here is that simply saying this is what it is all for, no matter how clumsily (“mums and kids”) doesn’t mean for a second that the aspiration becomes reality. The social media response to the endless variations on rules and playing conditions has been negative, which doesn’t mean that there is no merit behind any of them per se (nor that social media is representative of anything), but the whole intention behind Cricket Unleashed takes on a rather different hue when allied to the constant refrain that it isn’t aimed at existing cricket fans.

Accessibility can also be inferred to be a reference to cricket on free to air television, and if the omnishambles behind the Hundred to date has any saving grace whatever, it is the tacit admission by the ECB that hiding the game behind a paywall has been hugely damaging. It is vanishingly unlikely that anyone in authority will ever admit that, but the selling the Hundred rights for a relative song to the BBC (and that specific desire that it be the BBC) show that actions speak louder than words.

The trouble is that this particular aspiration collides headlong with many of the others, and that’s where the trouble begins. It is indicative of the mess the ECB have got into that the five pillars are tending towards the mutually exclusive. They needn’t have been.

Great Teams

The ECB will deliver winning men’s and women’s teams across the international and domestic spectrum that inspire and excite fans through on-field performance and their connection with the public on and off the field.

Of course. Wouldn’t anyone want that? Yet despite the statements from the ECB that Test cricket is their priority, this statement is suitably vague in terms of what it might actually mean. They could certainly argue that they are delivering on success in white ball cricket, both male and female, but it provides a nice free pass for the areas that aren’t going so well. It also places a lot of importance on the World Cup next year, and England’s hopes of winning it. A bad World Cup would seriously call into question the entire strategy on its own merits, let alone from the perspective of the Test game. Equally, the reference to domestic cricket being “inspiring and exciting” could be held to be indicating a white ball focus rather than red. The continued marginalisation of the County Championship certainly implies as much, and in the short term at least, the call up of players to the Test team who aren’t even playing red ball cricket for the counties is not a matter of protest so much as an obvious concomitant of the ECB’s own strategy.

The addition of a fourth limited overs domestic competition at the same time as reducing the importance of the County Championship (how else can its being shunted to April, May and September be viewed?) indicates plainly where the priorities lie. At the same time, they have financial imperatives that strongly point to what they are doing now, but ones that are on shaky ground in future given the fall in interest in cricket in the first place – if cricket loses interest, those TV rights become much less valuable. Hence the need for the Hundred, which may increase awareness of the game without directly impacting on the existing domestic and international finances.

Inspired Fans

The fan will be at the heart of our game, our thinking and our events, to improve and personalise the cricket experience for all.

This perhaps of all the five pillars of ECB wisdom will have the cricket supporter chuckling away most. The ever increasing ticket prices alone are hardly an indication of the fan being at the heart of anything other than the ECB’s wallet. To be fair to them, at least on this occasion they managed to include cricket fans in their list of stakeholders rather than ignoring them entirely, but nothing highlights the lack of trust in the organisation more than that even those not overtly critical of the ECB strategy will find this particular clause something of a joke.

It’s not even just the obvious issues that vex many a sporting fan (said ticket prices, food and drink costs, stadium access and so forth), it is also that the cricketing schedule is a mess to the point that fixtures are arranged with no thought whatever for the spectator. Bank Holidays empty of cricket, four day matches with no consistency on start date nor even falling over weekends, even entire swathes of the summer with no cricket in some formats at home grounds.

Naturally, paying lip service to supporters is a common complaint in all sports, but cricket has a particular problem in that the people who have supported the game over a long time are very often the same people who volunteer at clubs or schools to try to promote the sport itself. Treating traditional cricket spectators with contempt has a far greater impact on the game than is the case in previously comparable sports simply because there’s neither depth nor competition for attendance.

Of course, for T20 in particular, crowds have been strong, and some counties such as Surrey have invested heavily in a procedure known as “marketing”, to the point that they have demonstrated consistently high crowds, despite not having the assistance of the Hundred to do so. This might be thought to be worthy of credit, yet the silence from the ECB on this subject has been deafening. Of course, the whole tournament is restricted to Sky subscribers in the first place, and the unwillingness of either the ECB, the counties or both to countenance a drop in income is precisely why an additional tournament has been deemed necessary.

However, the nature of the crowds attending is rather open to debate. T20 cricket is neatly packaged into three hours (this has stretched somewhat – at the beginning it was two and a half, while the IPL has suffered from some games going as long as four hours), and attracts the casual spectator. This ought to be a good thing, for the shortest version of the game – so far – can and should be a gateway to developing an interest in cricket. However there are anecdotal complaints that people attend for a night out rather than game itself, which still isn’t a problem, for it provides much needed revenues from the bars. What is a contradiction is that the ECB have promoted the upcoming Hundred as being a family affair, while repeatedly stating it isn’t aimed at existing cricket fans.

They have a problem here: firstly in that no one has any idea where these prospective fans will be coming from, and secondly the often raucous atmosphere of a T20 is hardly conducive to being a family affair. It is impossible to believe that they will restrict the sale of alcohol for a start, meaning that without a currently entirely invisible to cricket demographic flocking to grounds, the chances are that it will simply replicate existing audiences, at best.

Good Governance & Social Responsibility

The ECB will make decisions in the best interests of the game and use the power of cricket to make a positive difference to communities around England and Wales. Protecting the integrity of our sport is critical and we will ensure we have the right governance and processes to achieve that.

The opening line of this clause is in some ways the most controversial statement of the lot, even more so than the one about fans. For it is beyond question that this should be the primary role of a governing body, the question is whether it actually is.

Is it truly in the best interests of the game to marginalise red ball cricket? Is it truly in the interests of the game to weaken the Test side (for there can be little argument that this is the effect)? Was it truly in the best interests of the game to oversee a sport that has become invisible and that participation has plummeted?

No one has ever said balancing the needs of a sport is easy, and certainly the ECB’s equivalents are subject to plenty of criticism. Yet even an organisation as institutionally controversial as FIFA could argue that they have significantly grown the sport around the world. The ECB can’t even arrest the decline of theirs in England and might well be directly responsible for it. Over the last 20 years or so there have been repeated opportunities to take decisions that were in the interests of the wider game, yet time and again the perception (at the very least) is that this has not been the motivation.

The creation of the Hundred is entirely at odds with the statement that “protecting the integrity of the sport is critical”, as more and more outlandish ideas are bandied around in order to provide a differentiation for what is already there. Whatever the length of a game, the fundamentals of the game of cricket remain. Considering abolishing the lbw law (as they were reported to have done) drives a coach and horses through the very idea that the integrity of the game is sacrosanct. It isn’t going to happen of course, but the very fact that it was even up for consideration is highly indicative that anything, including the game of cricket itself is very much up for grabs when commercial desires apply. Too many people have made the observation that the ECB is the only sporting body to hate its own sport for it to be given the benefit of any doubt. All of which leads to:

Strong Finance & Operations

The ECB will increase the game’s revenues, invest our resources wisely and administer them responsibly to secure the growth of the game.

This is one area the ECB can (and do. Oh my word, they really do) point to success. The move behind a paywall has seen the revenues rise consistently over the last 15 years, albeit some years are better than others. But there appears to be little scope for significant growth as things currently stand, without something such as the Hundred, and that relies on it being a success.

There is a central question here which the ECB have never been able to plausibly dismiss, which is whether the purpose of the money is to support the game, or whether the game is there to generate money. The former should be the sole focus of any governing body – the suspicion is that the latter is specifically what drives the ECB.

What is the money actually for? It is highly questionable whether the revenues have reached the recreational game for one thing – indeed many clubs might not notice much difference were the ECB to disappear entirely, such is the distance of the relationship between them. The clubs themselves have no say whatever over anything the ECB do. In contrast to the FA, where elections occur at every level of the pyramid, the ECB appoint someone to be a voice of the club and village game, with no reference whatever to it.

Likewise, although there are initiatives such as Chance to Shine and All Stars Cricket, much of the funding comes from elsewhere, and most of the work is done by club volunteers. Indeed, in the latter case the degree of subsidy is rather open to question, in terms of whether there is much if any at all. It should always be noted that the various England youth sides are included in the grassroots funding of the game. They are worthy recipients of money, naturally, but grassroots? No.

How well they operate as initiatives is a more open question. Chance to Shine appears to have performed well, in at least trying to stem the losses in interest and participation (sometimes success is measured in managing decline), but All Stars Cricket has had a mixed reception, and it is impossible to know whether the claimed figures represent a genuine uplift in junior interest, or whether it is largely those likely to be involved anyway measured twice.

The county game of course relies in large part on the TV deals done and the subsidy derived from the ECB themselves. Counties haven’t been self-sufficient for much of their histories, but the justification has always been that they are the proving ground and development centres for the international teams. As the ECB imperils the Test team by their strategy, that justification becomes just a little weaker.

Equally, those desiring terrestrial TV coverage, whether of county or international cricket are constantly met with the response that the drop in funding would damage the county game. At this point, the difficult question needs to be put: So what?

All businesses cut their cloth according to their income, the idea that counties would not be able to cope with a drop in subsidy implies that they are unable to run their basic affairs. Football teams cope with relegation, because they address the cost base to reflect the income differential. To suggest that county cricket is the sole industry totally unable to handle this is to say that it is akin to a heroin addict unable to function without their latest fix. It certainly would be difficult, it certainly would involve job losses, and it certainly wouldn’t please players who saw their income level drop. But it could and would survive, unless those who are running cricket are entirely incompetent.

This is why the central question of what that desire for ever increasing revenue remains to ask what it is for. It doesn’t remotely appear to be for the betterment of the game of cricket, it appears to be for the betterment of a subsection of the game of cricket. The amateur game barely notices whether there are rises or falls, only the professional game would, and it is a valid question as to whether that is a price worth paying for a sport now in deep trouble.

Whether a reduction in income in return for vastly greater television exposure would be worthwhile depends entirely on where an observer is standing. Within the upper echelons of the game, it would be viewed as a disaster. Elsewhere, perhaps not so much. Yet this strikes at the very essence of the reason for the ECB’s existence. If it is not for the benefit of the game of cricket itself, but for the benefit of those employed within it, then the ECB haven’t just failed to abide by the terms of their own mission statements, they have demonstrated thoroughly that they don’t deserve to run the game.

And here lies the ultimate irony: Having presided over the transition of the game from one that managed to become a national icon in 2005 to one that barely registers in public consciousness, cricket has become so lacking in importance that the conduct of its governing authority passes without much notice, and without much interest. Giles Clarke once said (smugly) that no one cares about administration. He was correct, but not entirely for the reasons he was suggesting. No one cares about administration when the sport being administered has become irrelevent. And that’s why it’s not the failing of the ECB’s Five Pillars that is the problem, it’s that they’ve made such a monumental mess of it this century that few people any longer care enough to challenge them on it.

Look around, Choose your own ground…

In keeping with Dmitri’s musical themes for his posts, I thought I’d add a little bit of Pink Floyd into the mix. ‘Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care’ seems especially poignant when it’s quite clear our governing body has constantly shown that they couldn’t care less anymore and there seems to be only a few of us trying to hold these individuals to some sort of account. I read with particular interest our guest article on the T100 yesterday and if you haven’t yet had a chance to read Steve’s excellent article, then I strongly urge you to do so. It was particularly of interest to me having watched most of what was a tight and hard-fought Test Match and from having headed down to the Oval on Friday night to see the habitual shoeing of Middlesex my first T20 game of the season. I’m not going to lie about the fact that my interest in cricket has waned dramatically since the end of the Pakistan series, as everyone knows on here that I’m not a fan of the 50 over white ball fare that has been served up in abundance this summer and quite frankly it’s hardly been fun following Middlesex’s plunge into mediocrity, hence my lack of output on the blog recently. I’ll also admit that I wasn’t as buoyant about the upcoming Test Series with India last week as I usually am for a high-profile Test Series having been worn down by England’s inability to pick anyone decent in the middle order, coupled with the complete farce that is the ECB’s modus operandi and the disgraceful rhetoric aimed at Adil Rashid from those that should know better, but for whatever reason prefer to personally insult an England cricketer for nothing more than accepting a call up to the national squad.

The first day of the Test was underwhelming from an England point of view and made writing a report of the day somewhat difficult when it seemed that another one-sided Test Match was on the cards. Test Match cricket is not to be underestimated though and the next 2.5 days provided a glimpse into why Test cricket can be so great. Sure there was some poor batting on display, but the regular twist and turns of this match, which is something that can’t be replicated in the white ball game, the unlikely rear-guard action by England, the Kohli Century and the tension of the final morning when both teams could have gone on to win the game, was a joy to behold. I’m sure that we’ll deep dive into the relative strengths and weaknesses of each side’s performance in the preview, but as TLG’s elegant post detailed on Friday, there was more to this than just the final result, it showed yet again why our governing body is so foolish to try to underplay the joy red ball cricket can bring to those who have the means to follow it, young or old. It was also good to see Kohli, whose Indian side has been said to prioritize white ball cricket ahead of red ball cricket in the past, come out and say:

“Test match cricket is the best format in cricket and my favourite. We love playing it and I’m sure every player will agree with me.”

It was also interesting that on my way to the Oval on Friday, the ground and certainly the seats in the playing area were half empty whilst the Test Match was going on and even once the game had started. I’m sure part of these were the ‘after work’ lot who head to the Oval for some sunshine and booze but there were many others who seemed to be more interested in what was going on at Edgbaston. I left work at 4:30pm and struggled to get into the pub next to the ground as it was one of the few places with the Test on and judging by the cheers and groans coming from the pub (I had to move outside as it felt about 90 degrees in there) that the majority were taking more than a passing interest in the Test rather than purely getting smashed in time for the game. I also joined a crowd of a good few hundred watching the Test under the very sweaty Oval covers (this was one of about 10 TV’s and the least busy) again highlighting the myth that all of those who attend T20 are disinterested in the longer format of the game. So why exactly do we need a new competition again? Once again surely access to the game is the main blocker for the audience, rather than a game of ‘comedy cabbage patch cricket’ aimed at a so-called new demographic who the ECB has yet to formally identify (the mother and kids thing is a loose justification as to why they feel the need to completely destroy the game of cricket).

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A packed ground at the Oval watching Surrey hit it to all parts

Now I’m aware that the T20 Blast has it’s faults, that it is too expensive certainly down south (the tickets for the Oval were £35, which is at least £15 too expensive in my opinion), that the English climate is not ideal for holding the competition in a block and that the nature of the 18 teams means that it is impossible to follow all of your team’s games unless you are willing to fork out serious dough (this is actually a blessing as a Middlesex fan). However the mad thing is and at the same time the major nail in the ECB’s plans for a game of cabbage cricket, is that the NatWest Blast set new records for ticket sales in 2017, with official attendance rising to 883,000 overall. Indeed Finals Day at Edgbaston was also a record sell-out, while average attendances among the 18 counties were up to 7500. This doesn’t exactly sound like a competition in crisis. I’m by no means a regular T20 visitor, but I’ll admit that Friday was good fun without being totally memorable (despite seeing two tons on a road of pitch). The Oval wasn’t as boisterous as it could have been, there were more individuals who were taking an active interest in the cricket rather than the contents of their overpriced beer cup and even the ‘after work city-lot’ whilst showing no real interest in the game (the ones in sat in front of me turned up after 8 overs had already been bowled) were at least quite pleasant and I’m a believer that England cricket can not be too stuffy as to turn their nose up at paying spectators. There can be a place where people prefer Test Cricket to White Ball cricket and vice versa, but are still interested in the game of cricket as a whole, rather than the excuse of a game the ECB have designed on the back of a fag packet in order to try to line their pockets whilst they still can.

So we have a growing T20 game albeit with some faults and a red ball competition with a solid base of supporters despite being pushed to the margins of the season (I’m not mentioning the 50 over lark, I’d abolish it if I could). Yet the powers that be in their infinite wisdom have decided that what we need more of is a competition that not only alienates its’ own cricket fans but has no proof of the concept of success whilst at the same pushing it’s current successful short ball competition and the red ball season into such obscurity to the extent that many might not know they exist anymore. The only way they could insult the counties and fans further would be to ask them to build the tusks and then paint the whole thing white. Seemingly no-one has had the sense to ask the common fan what they would like to see, despite many of them knowing more than the stooges at ECB head office could ever know. I’d lay my bottom dollar that many would simply reply with easy access to the cricket both in terms of viewing and visiting and for a successful national team, it seems even Paul Newman is gradually coming round to the idea:

Now many on the Sky side of the argument would argue that their input of finance into the game has allowed English cricket to put the finance into their facilities and paying their best players, though many of us lament the opportunity lost to cater for those ‘new fans’ who had been captivated by the Ashes in 2005. Now I would suggest that FTA on just television is not going to attract swathes of new followers though it would attract some, just as the new competition might attract the odd fool, but won’t be a drop on the ocean compared to the money spent on it. The way we consume media has changed and hence it’s now more about the ability to access the content rather than it running on ITV4. I mention this because the Counties have on the whole done a great job of running live feeds from the 4 day game, yet yesterday when there were a number of T20 games on around the country and no Test Cricket on the TV, not one was being shown by Sky. What a waste! Surely there needs to be an opportunity to screen those games that Sky aren’t showing on a local FTA stream much as they have done with the 4 day games. They could even develop 10 minute highlights packages for the kids who supposedly have no patience these days. Why not take a growing product and properly market it to those who could form a new audience? It doesn’t have to have all the mod-cons and camera angles as Sky provide, just a decent camera view and a local commentator giving their insight on the stream.

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Red Sky & Middlesex at night, Surrey’s delight…

Then we get to the real crux of the matter and the point in which I have been going slightly around this houses with in this piece (I could have written this in about 100 words, but it would have been a rather short and pointless article), which is that you could come up with the most wonderful and weird competition in the world and have the best marketing agency promoting this and it will still mean jack without success on the field.  Why do the ECB think that a large number of people turned up to the game at Edgbaston on Saturday knowing they would at best have 2 hours of cricket or why were so many people transfixed in the pub the previous evening? Let me share a little secret with the ECB, people are interested in Test Cricket especially when we have a competitive team playing good (but certainly not great) cricket. Yet this is the very thing that the new competition threatens, as the county championship which is supposed to be the breeding ground for our Test Players of the future, slowly keeps being pushed to the extremities to the point that the ECB won’t even promote it. What is going to happen when Anderson, Cook and Broad and the like retire? Who is there in County Cricket that has the talent and skill to replace these players and keep England competitive in the coming years? The answer looks like a frighteningly bare cupboard of talent certainly based on the Lions tour, with players who are only used to playing medium dobbers on damp, green pitches. It certainly isn’t Chris Woakes! Do you think there would have been as many people watching the game if England were being curb-stomped in the last Test? I think we all now know the answer to this.

So instead of trying to re-invent the wheel with 100 balls or 10 ball overs or the batsmen wearing flippers or whatever, how about the dolts at the ECB concentrate on something that might guarantee cricket’s future such as continued success on the field and wider access to all? It’s not exactly rocket science, but I’m still yet to be convinced this snake pit of greed and self serving even cares anymore. Make money whilst the sun shines and make yourselves scarce when the rain clouds gather. It’s only the game and the fans that will suffer.

Still as Pink Floyd once foretold: ‘Run, rabbit run, Dig that hole, forget the sun; And when at last the work is done; Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one.’ In truth I may have accidentally downloaded the modus operandi for ‘the hundred’ from the ECB’s PR department instead. I guess there’s no way to know these days…

Dog days

We’ve been rather quiet on here the last month or so. It’s for a number of reasons: the diet of white ball cricket in the heart of the summer allied with a football World Cup (and England’s progress to the latter stages) inevitably dominates attention. No matter what, it would be the sporting centre-piece, but it can’t be denied that cricket seemed less relevant than ever, a summer afterthought to the main events. Summoning the motivation to write pieces that were only going to echo one another has proved rather hard to do for all of us.

Fortunately, we are now beginning to approach the meat of the cricketing summer, with five Tests in six weeks that will restore somewhat the rhythm and cadence to a season. Yet the future is clearly that the Tests are to be an August feature, and a September one too, given the Ashes schedule for next year takes it well into the autumn. It’s not that this is inherently wrong, and nor is it unprecedented, but the intended sidelining of Test cricket for lucrative white ball cricket, international or domestic, few overs or many, is abundantly clear. This is the future as the ECB see it.

The sheer drivel around the Hundred continues apace. The 10 ball final over idea appears to have been nixed by the players, but now the revised “plan” appears to be something along the lines of 20×5 ball overs, but with the freedom to bowl consecutively, or even all from the same end.

It should be remembered that this was initially sold as being a simple concept, one that would attract non-cricket fans rather than the apparently detested lovers of the game. Yet we’re now in the position that even those eccentrics are helplessly confused about what on earth is going on, what the rules will be and how it helps anything. Even a bank balance. Cricket really isn’t that complicated a game yet if you listen to the ECB you’d be under the impression it was far to the north of quantum physics. But having pushed the myth of this, they now seem intent on making it even more complex in order to apparently make it simpler. This is insanity, a full on Catch 22 approach to the sport.

Of course, the fundamental point here is that they aren’t promoting cricket. They have totally lost sight, by accident or design, of what their role is meant to be – financial rewards are supposed to be there in order to support the game of cricket, not to be an end in themselves. We now have a future summer schedule where red ball county cricket is pushed ever more to the margins, a T20 Blast that is proving highly successful, 50 over competitions, white ball cricket internationally in the heart of the summer, plus a new competition that appears to be being designed to fit into the initial name with no regard for anything else.

Add to that Cricinfo reporting that the ECB are tying up a deal for 10 over cricket, and the flippant comment that what the ECB would really like is to be able to remove cricket from the equation entirely looks prescient rather than amusing. For perhaps the first time in history, a sporting body seems to loathe the game they administer, and to try to avoid it wherever possible. It would surprise no one if the word cricket was deleted from the Hundred, such is the terror of the sport by the administrators. At no point in recent years have they backed the sport, shouted about how amazing it is, how everyone should want to watch and play one of the finest games ever invented. It is all apology, all excuses.

At some point, the question of whether the ECB are fit for purpose to run cricket in this country is going to come up. It’s not there yet, but there are the beginnings of rumblings. Even the press have started to be more critical, although notably it is either those at Cricinfo, or those who are general sports reporters rather than beholden to the ECB access rules. It isn’t much, but it is growing slightly. A governing body that has no faith in its own game really ought to be disqualified from running it on those grounds alone. It is failing from the start.

For let’s be clear: if there’s one thing that anyone who loves cricket wants is that those running the game share that most basic belief. And who really thinks the ECB does any more?

Just Rejoice at that news…Rejoice

Mixed feelings is the lot of most people for most eventualities in life – good things can happen, but with a caveat. Absolute certainty is forever dangerous, the prerogative of the zealot. Thus it is that England’s 5-0 demolition of Australia in the Meaningless Ashes series evokes several different responses and emotions.

To begin with, the pain of realisation that we are barely a third of the way through the white ball international schedule can be tempered with enjoying the clear irritation displayed by Malcolm Conn, as his beloved Cricket Australia Australian cricket team were demolished by the side he gleefully reminded had been beaten by Scotland. Whether fans or press pack, looking forward to the latest surly, childish tweet from him was always a delight.

Equally, England’s batting line up repeatedly fired, and while Jos Buttler deservedly got many of the plaudits (especially for the extraordinary knock in the final match), he was anything but alone. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales were all at different times utterly devastating, while Eoin Morgan, without quite getting the volume of runs of his team mates, destroyed Australia’s bowling when he got going. An England batting line up where Joe Root appears to be something of the weak link has something seriously going for it.

Of course, for various reasons this wasn’t Australia’s best side, but the absence of players through suspension cannot be used as any kind of excuse, any more than it could in the winter when a player was missing from the England side for legal reasons. Injuries perhaps, for Australia lacked their primary pace bowling attack, but even there, justifying heavy defeat by complaining about absence is as pointless as it ever was, while belittling English success on the basis of the standard of opposition remains a curious national obsession.

Nevertheless, it can be said that it wasn’t Australia’s best team, certainly, albeit England too were missing a couple of players in the shape of Stokes and Woakes. The best teams available to both were largely selected, and to that extent it was representative. Of more importance is the relevance of the series itself, shoehorned into the heart of the summer, nominally as part of the preparation for next summer’s World Cup, but since that could have been equally done by extending Pakistan’s stay (and they did win the Champions Trophy last year) the reality that it was down to financial considerations is abundantly obvious. The crowds were largely decent, so the ECB will consider it mission accomplished.

Australia explicitly stated in 2011 that they were prioritising Test cricket, and the decline in their ODI performances since then intriguingly correlate with that, particularly given their Test performances have remained strong – the South Africa debacle notwithstanding. Yet, and here is where the excuses about missing players ring hollow – they have lost 14 of their last 16 ODIs. Pretending that the return of those players will make all well for next year flies in the face of poor performance even when all are present and accounted for, but above all else it makes interesting reading and Daniel Brettig goes into more detail here. When considering England’s alternate strategy of focusing on the white ball form of the game, whatever their protestations to the contrary, it is striking that there appears a connection, though India may raise a hand at this juncture. The marginalisation of red ball county cricket, reduction in Test volumes across the summer and creation of wheezes like The Hundred could be argued to have been highly successful in terms of creating the conditions for generating a strong England ODI and T20 side. To that end, the ECB could claim vindication for their strategy, yet they are unlikely to do so precisely because it’s a strategy that finds little favour with England cricket fans. It is, unquestionably, an irony to see the ECB succeed in their aims yet be unable to truly take credit because of the corollary impact and what it would say about them.

If the stated aim is to win the World Cup, then England are in good shape, with a couple of provisos. No team will be confident of setting England a score for the simple reason that no total seems safe from the destructive capabilities of the batting line up. The world record set two years ago was extraordinary, the pulverising of it in this series simply astounding. That 500 became a realistic prospect is something that seems scarcely credible, as was the rather odd feeling of disappointment when they didn’t get there. It must be said that pitches so flat that bowlers become cannon fodder for batsmen is fundamentally unhealthy, and by far the most exciting game in the series came in the final match, where bowlers had the upper hand, and the century from Buttler had real value because of the circumstances.

The belief of most cricket fans tends to be that these make the best matches, a proper balance between bat and ball and the excruciating excitement of a team limping over the line as true batting peril and hunting packs of bowlers come to the fore. Yet the likelihood is that those cricket fans are wrong. Casual observers probably watch to see the ball disappearing to all parts of the ground, caring little for the skill of the bowler, but enjoying the resounding thwack of willow on leather. This may be something of a depressing thought, yet the sidelining of Test cricket where that balance really does apply suggests there is truth in it, no matter what we might wish to believe. Put it this way, it’s more likely to receive a text to turn the television on because Chris Gayle is going berserk than because Liam Plunkett is rattling through the top order.

The final match also highlighted the potential flaw in England’s side, particularly when the ICC get hold of pitch preparation next summer – that England have a tendency to fall in a heap quite spectacularly from time to time. Some context is needed for that, for no one day side, no matter how strong, wins every game. England are defeated rarely, and if the semi-final last summer can be perhaps put in the category of a one off, it doesn’t mean that some caution about their prospects isn’t in order.

Perhaps for that reason the victory at Old Trafford was particularly impressive, for despite the collapse England still found a way to win. Or more specifically, Jos Buttler did. He is in an extraordinary run of form, whether at the IPL, in this series, or indeed in Test cricket. Whether this is just a purple patch, or whether he has found his feet in the wider game of cricket is a moot point, for this can be said of any player suddenly thrust to the fore through sheer performance. It is enough for the present to enjoy his extraordinary run and to hope that it continues.

The arrival of India will perhaps answer some of the questions underlying England’s level of performance, but it seems beyond question that they are among the favourites for next year. Buttler’s supreme displays have overshadowed players who in any other circumstances would be in receipt of unqualified praise – Roy and Bairstow actually scored more runs this series for a start.

This series was also played out in the backdrop of a football World Cup, which has deliciously highlighted both the appetite for watching event sport, and the invisibility of cricket to the wider public. The two England football matches have attracted extraordinary viewing figures – over 20 million for the game against Tunisia, and while the totals were lower for the beating handed out to Panama, the 83% of total television audience (when the cricket was on, note) is one of the highest on record.

Cricket isn’t football of course, and a World Cup is a seminal collective experience, but there are some observations that can be made from that. Firstly that a likeable team whom the public believe are deserving of support receive it, and secondly that the claims of the ECB over the years amount to so much nonsense. The near 10 million who watched the climax of the Ashes in 2005 were specifically discounted as a future factor when justifying the move to pay TV on the grounds that the digital age meant that such community viewing was no longer possible. Young people in particular apparently no longer consumed sport in such a manner, too distracted by social media to sit and watch a game.

The huge audiences for the football demonstrated that this was so much drivel. All ages watched the England football team, all ages cheered the goals. The cricket team could never hope to match those raw numbers, but it is beyond question that were they to move to the latter stages of next year’s World Cup, both the interest, and the audience would climb dramatically if it were widely available, not least because it would be promoted across all media, social or otherwise. Instead, even if England were to win the thing, it will remain a niche occasion. It is this in particular that remains unforgivable, that the ECB blew the opportunity offered to a sport that had captured the public imagination as on few occasions previously. Cricket is not football, but the shared national experience when our team does well is something beyond price, and really does inspire a generation.

The football team may not have beaten anyone of note yet, but kids across the country were kicking footballs afterwards, just as in 2005 they were taking a bat and a ball to the park. For all the protestations about the viability of the professional game without Sky’s money (how on earth did they survive before 2006?), this fundamental importance has been ignored. The argument these days appears to be an almost apologetic one, that ok yes, perhaps they have destroyed the game in national consciousness, but it’s too late now and they can’t survive by changing tack. It is weak, defeatist nonsense driven by self-interest.

Buttler should be a household name. Roy should be a household name, Hales should be a household name, the captain Eoin Morgan should be a household name. Children should be trying to emulate Adil Rashid and make their friends look foolish with one that grips and turns. But they aren’t, and after a series where whatever the caveats, England were both exceptional and thrilling, this is the most disappointing part. Forget for one moment the debate about red ball and white ball cricket, when England really do have a team that can inspire a nation, hardly anyone saw it.

It is that, above all else, that can never be forgiven.

Wallcharts at the Ready

If ever there was a day for multi-screening, yesterday was it. Four World Cup matches, a succession of rugby internationals, the US Open golf, a Test match in the Caribbean, and the small matter of an ODI.

At the end of it, Australian sport had suffered the kind of day that England fans tend to be grimly accustomed to, with defeat to France at the World Cup, defeat to Ireland in the rugby, and defeat to England in the cricket. Schadenfreude may not be the most attractive character trait, but amusement was both widespread and frankly enjoyable.

Enthusiasm for this series against Australia appears limited, not least among those buying tickets. As much as it was claimed the game was sold out, there were plenty of empty seats on show in Cardiff. Either the Welsh have an awful lot of money to throw away, or someone is gilding the lily. Still, disappointing crowds are not that unusual for internationals at that venue, and it was hardly deserted. But the sense of going through the motions is unsurprising given both the timing of the series and the sense that this nothing other than a financial obligation tour.

England are 2-0 up without giving the impression they are remotely playing at their best, and with Australia missing so many key players there is little to engender a feeling of this being much more than practice for either side. Those players who look dangerous in the short form continue to do so, those who appear to be struggling show little sign of answering the questions about them.

A football World Cup always dominates the sporting environment, and a Test series during it would struggle for attention too, but despite being as relatively inaccessible (pay TV) as the cricket, the rugby summer tours have a greater sense of occasion to them. The sarcastic description of one day games as JAMODIs (Just Another Meaningless One Day International) has rarely felt as apposite as here. The pretence that this is about the build up to next year’s cricket World Cup doesn’t cut it, especially given the absence of Pakistan from the schedule despite being here for two Tests.

With 13 white ball matches across the heart of the summer before the Tests get underway again, we have barely got going. This becomes troubling for a number of reasons – the press themselves in unguarded moments will confess to struggling to write anything new about them, and while that isn’t especially an issue in itself, the translated ennui among cricket followers is. Andrew Strauss obliquely referenced the lack of context with his concept of a points system, which while widely derided does at least draw attention to the fundamental problem.

Ironically, cricket had its solution to this in the past, by making the ODIs part of the build up to what most still consider the main event. The last but one England tour of New Zealand comprised three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests. The sense of a build up towards a sporting climax was inescapable, and provided that much needed balance and importance. The same applied to the 2005 Ashes series, where there was certainly no shortage of white ball cricket scheduled, but it felt like part of a wider whole, and by the time the first Test came around, anticipation was at fever pitch.

The problem with this Australian tour is that winning or losing is instantly forgettable for both sets of fans and success or failure doesn’t matter – except to make Malcolm Conn look an idiot, and he doesn’t usually need help with that.

The more dramatic cricket news has still happened in the Test arena, firstly with Afghanistan’s debut, and secondly with the ball tampering allegations concerning the Sri Lankan team in the West Indies. In the former heavy defeat inside two days matters little in the wider sense of welcoming a new team to the Test game, and if the cricket boards show little inclination to support expansion, the same can’t be said of the Indian team. They conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, showing every indication of being fully aware what an extraordinary achievement it was for Afghanistan to have reached this point. They deserve credit for recognising it in such a classy manner.

In contrast, the refusal of the Sri Lankan team to take the field after being accused of changing the condition of the ball offered up plenty of reminders of Pakistan’s similar action at the Oval in the forfeited Test. The problem here is the failure to support the umpires in their decision-making. Already whispers of legal action have begun, which is precisely why umpires are so reluctant to take action in the first place. Whether they are ultimately right or wrong is beside the point, if officials aren’t allowed to make decisions and receive support, then they won’t make them. Darrell Hair’s ostracism and belittling remains a stain on the game whatever his character flaws. The umpire’s decision is not final, and it should be.

England’s next match takes place on Tuesday, the day after their football counterparts open their World Cup campaign. Whatever the result, it is undoubtedly the case that the football will be all that receives extensive coverage. Of course, a World Cup is truly special, but it’s also on free to air television, making it a community event. The audience figures for the Spain-Portugal match are simply astonishing, reaching a peak of over 10 million across TV and online. Cricket may not be able to match that kind of reach, but it highlights for the umpteenth time the absurdity of claiming that free to air doesn’t matter.

Peter Della Penna tweeted that the BBC had made an offer to Sky to broadcast the Scotland-Pakistan T20 on the red button which was declined, as Sky didn’t want it distracting from the England Women’s ODI they were showing. To begin with, the realisation that the Scotland matches were under the umbrella of the ECB contract came as a surprise – in return for England playing them, it had been outsourced. As a result, Scotland’s match wasn’t shown anywhere in the UK when it could have been. Yet it makes explicit the position that a low key international not involving England could be more popular with the viewers, even when online or interactive TV, than a pay TV one that does. The very importance of that can’t be overstated, given it is exactly what is repeatedly denied by those who propound the pay TV model.

Assuming no more shenanigans, there will be Test cricket on later. But let’s be honest, we’re going to be watching the World Cup.