Coach Wanted – Englishmen Need Not Apply

There’s a vacuum at the heart of the men’s England team right now. The question of who should be captain is in flux because there is no coach or selector to make that call. There is no coach or selector because there is no director of cricket to hire them. There is no director of cricket because there is no chair and the chief executive is too busy fleshing out his CV for his next victim employer.

There is a lot of speculation about who will fill these roles though, with a great many names mentioned. What is becoming increasingly clear is that almost no one believes the next coach will be English, and many wouldn’t be surprised if that was also the case for the director of cricket. Indeed, no current English county coach or director of cricket appears to have even applied.

All of which begs the question: If there are 18 county teams with 18 head coaches and (I’m guessing) 18 directors of cricket, how come not a single English candidate is qualified to lead the England team?

It should be emphasised that this is not a new problem. The last (and only) English head coach to win an Ashes series is Mickey Stewart in 1987, and the only English head coach to win a men’s T20 or ODI World Cup is Paul Farbrace in 2014 with Sri Lanka. Trevor Bayliss (Australian), Andy Flower (Zimbabwean) and Duncan Fletcher (Zimbabwean) all came in and won something with the England team. Fletcher is the only one of these three to have spent any time coaching a county side, with two years at Glamorgan.

It’s difficult to look at this record, at the complete absence of high quality English coaches competing for the vacant positions, and not think that something has gone badly wrong within county cricket.

I have to preface this by saying that I don’t really follow county cricket particularly closely. I’ve never lived in a town or city which hosts a county team. I have lived the vast majority of my life outside of any of the eighteen major counties. I don’t pretend to have any expertise on the subject, and what follows may well be foolish generalisations based on nothing more than hearsay and my inherent biases.

All that said, being appointed coach in county cricket (and the England team) seems like it is much more about who you know rather than your skills or past results. Take England’s coaches: Graham Thorpe, Paul Collingwood and James Foster were all England teammates with director of cricket Ashley Giles. Although head coach Chris Silverwood appears not to been on the field together with Giles, they were certainly both in the same England ODI squad in 1997. I get the impression that the majority of county coaches are ex-players from the same teams. These kind of appointments are always popular with the fans/members (see Darren Gough at Yorkshire CCC), but don’t obviously lead to qualified or skilled coaching.

The methods routinely used within county cricket and the England team have to be questioned. The majority of English coaches appear to have a level 3 or 4 (‘Elite’) ECB coaching qualification. If no one who goes through this course appears to be any good at coaching professional first-class cricketers, should it not be changed?

There seems to be an extreme level of conservatism inherent in county (and international) coaching, which the ECB training seems to reinforce. Coaches don’t want to intervene or criticise players, even in private and on matters of basic technique. The emphasis appears to be almost entirely on boosting the players’ confidence. This is no doubt important, particularly on tour, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to fix fundamentally flawed approaches to batting and bowling.

This is exacerbated by English cricket’s almost uniquely insular attitudes to both hiring coaches and gaining experience. A large number of coaches from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies or Zimbabwe have spent a lot of time working outside of their home countries. This is rarely the case in England, where having eighteen professional clubs plus a plethora of highly-paid roles at public schools means that ex-players don’t have to stray outside their comfort zone to make a living. This limits their experience, and means that they never see other methods of helping players develop.

One obvious consequence, if coaching in county cricket is almost universally substandard, is that this would inevitably harm the development of county cricketers. After all, how can players reasonably reach their potential if the people who are supposed to be teaching and managing them aren’t up to the job?

This is why I think that coaching is the key issue regarding the quality of English Test cricketers. There are undoubtedly a great many other factors: The pitches, the scheduling, county youth systems and financial incentives to name just four. They all should be addressed as soon possible, but I don’t believe county cricket will start producing Test-quality batsmen again before the coaching fundamentally improves. In the short term, that might involve the hiring of significantly more overseas staff until English candidates become employable.

If you have any thoughts on this post, or on anything else that crosses your mind, leave them below.

West Indies vs England – Third Test Preview

It’s difficult to know what to write here, since so little has changed in the past week. The series is still 0-0. Wood and Robinson are still out injured. Matt Parkinson is still warming the bench. The only real cause for optimism comes from the photos of the pitch, which at least look like a little grass has been allowed to remain.

With the fragility of both teams’ batting lineups, that should be plenty to force a result. Whilst some people are talking in hopeful tones about a new era for English cricket, with Dan Lawrence and Jonny Bairstow helping Joe Root lead the team to somewhere near basic competence. They have done well, as did Mahmood in his Test debut, but these performances have to be placed in the right context: The pitches were incredibly flat, and the West Indies are not a good Test team.

As it stands, the West Indies are eighth in the World Test Championship table (England are last in ninth), having won just one Test against Pakistan in the current cycle. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a team with England’s financial resources, England’s first-class depth, England’s unique focus on red ball cricket should be able to bat out a draw on benign surfaces. It should be a minimum expectation.

Aside from the players, the individual who has most obviously benefitted from England not losing two Tests in a row is Paul Collingwood. The interim head coach has apparently put his name forward for the permanent role, and not losing a Test series (as Silverwood failed to achieve four times in the past year) is clearly enough to at least be considered by the ECB. One notable aspect of this is that he has never worked as a coach in county cricket. He had several spells as a coach for Scotland, and has been with the England team for the past three years. This means that he has no experience as a head coach, and almost no track record for his potential employers to examine.

This is a very common trait amongst people who the ECB are considering for their vacant senior positions. It was reported today that Rob Key is in the running for the Director of Cricket position. I don’t have anything against him as a person, but he appears to have gone straight from his playing career to the Sky commentary booth. Whilst he might talk a good game (that is his job, after all), there’s absolutely nothing to prove that he can back it up. He has that in common with Andrew Strauss and Ed Smith, who both transitioned directly from punditry to senior ECB positions.

There are six candidates listed for the Director Of Cricket job in this article: Rob Key, Ed Smith, Tom Moody, Marcus North, Nathan Leamon and Mo Bobat. As far as I can tell, the only ones with any experience of coaching or managing a domestic cricket team are the two Australians, Moody and North. Smith, Leamon and Bobat have all only ever worked worked for the ECB as head selector, analyst and performance director respectively.

It is possible to look at this and say that the ECB are disrespecting county cricket by not recruiting people from that talent pool, but I have to question if there are any candidates who obviously deserve a shot with England. After all, Chris Silverwood was appointed by England after his team won the Championship but failed to make any impression in internationals. Peter Moores and Ashley Giles were also both county coaches before their spells with England. There is a long running and active discussion about how county cricket is failing to develop talented Test batters, but very little time is spent looking at the quality of the coaches and other staff. The two issues may well be linked. After all, poor coaching and management aren’t exactly helpful in helping the next generation of cricketers reach their full potential.

I honestly don’t know enough about county cricket to know if this is an entirely accurate picture, or what could be done about it. It doesn’t give me much optimism for any change in England’s fortunes over the next few years though.

If you have any comments about the Test, the ECB’s recruitment, or anything else, please leave them below.

Are The ECB Guilty Of Bringing The Game Into Disrepute?

I want to be clear from the outset of this post: It is not a joke. It is not hyperbole. It is not a hypothetical exercise. I truly believe that the ECB, according to its own rules, could refer itself to its ‘independent’ disciplinary committee for bringing the game and itself into disrepute. What follows is my argument for why it should happen.

This post was prompted by the news that Essex CCC were being charged under ECB directive 3.3 for failing to investigate the alleged use of racist language by their chairman John Faragher from 2017 (an allegation Faragher has denied).

To summarise: Faragher was accused of using a dated American expression which, for the sake of not getting this site filtered by Google and WordPress for content, I won’t explicitly refer to here. It is certainly a racist phrase, and using it in any workplace is unacceptable. Failing to investigate such a complaint is also totally unacceptable, and the timing of when it went public certainly harmed the sport’s image in England by seemingly confirming that issues weren’t confined to Yorkshire CCC.

But there is a complication: It would appear that the ECB themselves were informed of the allegation in 2018 and, like Essex CCC, they failed to investigate it. Nor did they look into Essex’s failure to follow the correct procedure at the time. It was only in 2021, under intense media and parliamentary pressure, that they finally acted. If the lack of response from Essex CCC has brought English cricket into disrepute, surely the ECB are equally as guilty?

This is sadly not an isolated incident. There are numerous examples of the ECB failing to investigate racist occurrences. The most obvious recent example relates to Azeem Rafiq, where they were content allowing Yorkshire CCC to royally screw things up for over a year. However, it should be remembered that Rafiq was only one of several ex-players who made allegations of racism in the press. Michael Carberry, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Dave Burton, Alex Tudor, Chris Thompson, and no doubt severals others who I have missed have all disclosed specific examples of racism within county cricket in the past two years.

The ECB’s inaction is not just related to cricketers. Umpires John Holder, Ismail Dawood and Devon Malcolm have accused them of discriminating against Black and Asian match officials. Alison Mitchell has alluded to racism within the England press box by ECB-accredited journalists being a recurring issue, with no investigations forthcoming. Pakistani journalist Saj Sadiq complained to the ECB last summer about how he was treated by the security at four separate England games, but was ignored. Former Leicestershire CCC chair Mehmooda Duke appears to have resigned from her role after being “intimidated” “coerced” and “manoeuvred” by people within the ECB.

Should Essex CCC be punished for failing to follow the proper procedure after they were made aware of the allegations regarding Faragher’s behaviour? Almost certainly, but surely the ECB must be held to the same standard. Where Essex may be guilty of one or two counts, I’ve listed at least twelve cases of the ECB failing to investigate or act regarding racism in this post. Are the ECB not also bound by the rules they (fail to) enforce?

There is, perhaps, one problem with my thesis. Reading the ECB Cricket Disciplinary Committee’s regulations (I really know how to have a fun weekend), it’s not entirely clear whether the ECB as an entity is accountable to the committee. The only organisations it lists as ‘participants’ in its disciplinary process are “members”, which means the 39 counties (first-class and national) plus the MCC. If this is the case, then perhaps the ECB as a whole can escape due to a trifling technicality. It seems inarguable otherwise that they would be found guilty.

Individual employees are clearly liable though, as it specifically mentions “committee members of the ECB”. This would presumably include chief executive Tom Harrison as chair of the executive committee, for example. It is certainly be very difficult to imagine that this sustained failure to act over a long period of time in so many cases from the ECB could be possible without the knowledge and support of such senior members of staff.

I am sure that Harrison would resign long before any hearing took place. It is already being rumoured that will be leaving in the next few months anyway (just after his loyalty bonus is due, coincidentally). However, just referring him to the disciplinary committee would be an important message for the ECB to project that no one in English cricket is unaccountable and that things will genuinely change going forward. It would also help the ECB deflect accusations of double standards as it finally starts dealing with historic complaints and punishing the clubs or individuals responsible.

And at the end of the day, isn’t everyone being treated the same what equality is all about?

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

Should Women Have Equal Pay In The Hundred?

Tomorrow, the ECB and several county chairs are going before the Digital, Culture, Media And Sport Parliamentary committee to answer questions regarding racism within English cricket and their responses to it (or the lack thereof). This is certainly an important issue which should be questioned and addressed, but it is far from the only problem that the sport has regarding diversity and equality. The treatment of women cricketers by the ECB and the counties has been (and continues to be) shameful.

This genuinely angers me, and never more so than when the ECB posts press releases, promotional videos and friendly articles by useful idiots in the press declaring how committed they are to gender equality. It is absolute bullshit. I’ve posted about this before, after the ECB posted a series of videos on Twitter proclaiming their support for the International Women’s Day 2020 campaign ‘Each For Equal’. It’s fair to say that I was not impressed.

In the first season of The Hundred, the total player wage bill for the women’s competition was £1.3m compared to £6.7m for the men. This meant that the average man was paid £45,000 more than the average woman. The ECB announced pay rises for everyone in this year’s competition, which was presented by some useful idiots in the press as being a “108%” (or “more than doubled”) increase for the women compared to ‘just’ 25% for the men. A real blow for equality in sport. This was technically accurate, but hardly tells the full story. With the total wage bills being £8.3m and £2.3m in 2022, the average pay gap for women cricketers has actually increased by £5,000 to £50,000.

The first question this scenario begs to be asked is whether it is legal. If you had a company with a 50-50 gender split and every single woman was paid £50,000 less than a man in the same job, you could expect to spend most of your time in lawyers’ offices and employment tribunals.

We understand in sport that men’s and women’s sports are typically separate, with their own discrete economic and competition structures and therefore it is not unfair for Cristiano Ronaldo to be paid more than Ella Toone, for example. However, it is not immediately apparent that this would apply to The Hundred. Almost every source of income is pooled together from both competitions, with no distinction for what proportion can (or should) be attributed to the men or women. The TV deals all include both men’s and women’s games. Every ticket sold (barring the season openers) is for both a men’s and women’s game. The same sponsorship deals cover both competitions. At the same time, it would seem like women do the same amount of work as the men in The Hundred, playing the same number of games and having apparently equal media and sponsorship commitments. It would be very interesting to hear what someone with more knowledge than me regarding employment law had to say on the issue.

Even if total pay equity is not legally required, the current balance is significantly out of proportion to the value they bring to the competition and the compensation they therefore deserve. With wage budgets of £8m and £2m, the women will on average be paid 25% as much as the men this season. According to the ECB’s own figures, the women’s Hundred had 52.4% of the attendance and (for the final) 58.3% of the TV viewers compared to the men’s games. It would seem to logically follow that the women therefore deserve to be paid at least 50% of what the men receive, or double what they are currently due in 2022.

To be clear: The TV audiences are the key statistic regarding how much income can be attributed to the women’s competition. The Sky and BBC TV deals alone account for £36.5m, roughly 70% of The Hundred’s revenue. If women’s cricket is attracting 52.4% of the men’s audience (and it is) then it follows that they are earning 34.4% (0.524/1.524) of those TV deals, or £12.5m. This would mean that the women’s competition is already making a profit, and would continue to do so even if their total wage budget was increased to £8m per year.

At the same time, the men’s competition has significantly greater costs. As well as having higher salaries for the players, it also requires an annual payment to the counties of £24.7m to compensate them for losing contracted men’s players during the season as well as lost income from hosting fewer, lower status men’s games in the middle of summer. This means that the men’s competition earns £24m in UK TV revenue (65.6% of £36.5m) but costs at least £32.7m. Even if you attribute 100% of ticket revenue (around £6.5m) to the men’s Hundred, it would still be making a significant loss. In short: The women’s Hundred appears to be subsidising the men’s.

However, these attendance and viewing figures don’t tell the whole story. The scheduling of The Hundred in the first year was entirely focussed on the men’s competition. Every single men’s game in 2021 was in a primetime television/attendance slot, by which I mean outside of work hours and avoiding clashes with the men’s Test series against India. By contrast, every weekday women’s game (bar the season opener) started at 3pm or 3.30pm and there were also ten women’s games scheduled to take place at the same time as the Tests.

That the women attracted such a large audience in spite of these handicaps placed on them by the ECB is incredible and, I would argue, suggests that they are significantly undervalued. After all, if the roles were reversed and every women’s game was given this kind of priority, would the men’s attendances and TV audiences still be higher? There is a reason why almost no sports play their games during work hours, if they can avoid it.

It bears saying that achieving equal pay in The Hundred would be much easier with the support of the PCA. The women players are all members, and you might expect that their union would be supporting them gaining more (and, I would argue, fairer) pay. However, the most obvious way for the ECB to implement this would having a £5m wage budget for each competition, which would represent a 37.5% pay cut for men. As I have previously posted, the PCA always seems to prioritise the interests of their male members over everyone else.

Even so, to pay women cricketers so little would seem to be too hypocritical even for the ECB to stomach. After all, they post lovely videos on all of their social media accounts proclaiming their support for International Women’s Day every single year. Given that one of the key themes running through every single International Women’s Day campaign is the fight against pay disparity, and the ECB actively promotes these campaigns, supporting equal pay in their new competition would seem like a no-brainer.

Which should tell you exactly how much I rate the ‘brains’ at the ECB.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, please leave them below.

Less Is Not Always More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ECB are almost certain to do it then.

As always, please leave your comments below.

Grated Expectations

There’s been a lot of reaction to England’s latest capitulation, and what it might mean. The Australians are gleeful and fair enough too, the English would be the same if it was the other way around. As is ever the case in these circumstances, the more thoughtful think about the consequences of continued one sided encounters, hoping against hope that the English will get their act together. It’s not their problem, any more than it was 25 years ago when they were dominant home and away. What that decade or more of batterings did do was force the nascent ECB into action to do something about it. And with success too, albeit a fairly fleeting, complacent success. This time around, there’s no sense of a determination from the governing body to fix things, more just the opposite.

There are a few caveats to be offered up – that England getting trounced in Australia is far from new, and the Australians themselves haven’t won in England in 20 years, while a focus on the Ashes to the detriment of all else has long been an issue in the mentality of too many in England. It’s true of Australians as well, but the difference is that they see smacking England about as a delightful consequence of their overall aim rather than the aim itself. But the suited and booted at the ECB made lots of noise about their two year plan to deliver the Ashes and they have failed quite spectacularly, though it’s unlikely they’ll acknowledge that. This isn’t a surprise to anyone paying attention, England were always going to be lambs to the slaughter (how ironic that was the title of a cricketing book when the shoe was on the other foot) because they just aren’t very good, and are declining from a position of outstanding mediocrity.

So what to write about it? There is no shortage of outraged shock out there, no shortage of lamentations for the latest death of English cricket, and a fair degree of anger. But not so much from us. Which is why this tweet from a sports journalist allowed the writing of a post:

Lee is right. We’ve written far less, what we have written has been more with weary resignation than the molten steel of outrage.

Partly it’s that none of this comes as any kind of bolt from the blue. All of us have banged on about the way the policies of the ECB were going to lead us to this point, not because of our truly magnificent insight into the complexities of the game, but because it was utterly bleeding obvious to anyone paying more than cursory attention. England haven’t just been pumped in the Ashes, they’ve been beaten up by India and New Zealand at home this year as well. They’re two good sides, but that’s only an excuse if the expectation is for England to lose on their own patch to good sides, which is to set sights low enough to be subterranean. There is a fair element of the ECB justifying it precisely on this basis, which is to suspect they accept declinism.

It bears stating yet again that the Hundred is not to blame for this debacle, but the strategy that culminated in the Hundred is. We all salute and appreciate the might of Darren Stevens, but the issue is not a game that allows his longevity, but one where in his mid-forties he wouldn’t noticeably weaken the England team if he was selected. There are only so many times these points can keep being made without us being bored of our own voices, and fed up with screaming into the void given so little attention has ever been paid to it. Not to us, who cares if anyone listens to us, but to anyone in a more prominent position making the same points.

Talk to most cricket journalists and they’ll be saying similar things with varying degrees of emphasis, but little of this gets into the general media because the wider public isn’t interested in the detail of how a successful England team is created, but only that it happens. More than that, they don’t pay that much attention to them doing adequately, but they do tend to notice a complete shellacking and their relatives in Australia sending rude Whatsapps to them. In the specialist cricketing publications the frustration is clear, in the national press less so; it doesn’t get past the sub-editors and the general readership won’t invest the time in learning about the problems, and more pertinently, they shouldn’t have to. Broadcast media, particularly Sky, have revelled in their own domination of the right to watch English cricket, and as a commercial entity have spent more time talking about how good things are than they ever have the likely future coming. They are entitled to do that, for the disaster the ECB have created is not down to them, but it might affect how much they’re prepared to pay for the particular joy of covering England being crushed on a regular basis – their refusal to bid for this series could be a harbinger of the future.

It’s customary at this time to point to a post or a paragraph where we predicted this, but our output hasn’t been one of a couple of comments proclaiming Nostradamus level awareness, it’s been the whole bloody website for years, the whole set of responses in the comments from those who visit. The Pietersen affair, whatever the rights and wrongs, was about an organisation whose prime motivation was no longer putting out the strongest team possible onto the field, and that was the main reason for the rage involved, the justifications on any issue possible except whether the central one as to whether it made England stronger or weaker. It certainly wasn’t the personal tribulations of someone none of us know and aren’t in truth overly keen on.

That is in the past, the anger transmuting in the subsequent years as the ECB continued down a path of prioritising other things, anything, except the fundamental point of their existence in making the game of cricket – ALL of the game of cricket – as strong as it could possibly be. The removal of free to air cricket was a symptom of a complacent organisation that felt they were in a strong position to take financial advantage of their success, irrespective of whether it undermined the foundations or not. The refusal over many years to acknowledge that it might have caused other problems was symptomatic of that shift in focus, but once again, it is not the reason for this series and shouldn’t be said to be, not least because it was fifteen years ago that it happened. It is one of a myriad of decisions and policies that compound each other, year in, year out, progressively weakening the fundamentals of the game, no one item to blame or single out, all of them pushing the direction to where we are now. Even when some things change (such as the new found enthusiasm for letting the public see the sport) they are being responded to in isolation rather than with a strategic approach, a sticking plaster applied to a gaping wound.

The latest excuse for the abjectness of the Test team is that white ball cricket has been prioritised. It’s true, but it’s still not an acceptable rationale. Other countries have piled into the revenues created by T20 without destroying their Test teams, and while there is a wider issue at stake about the increasing domination of the short forms of the game, that doesn’t justify England going backwards relative to the others. White or red ball is a false dichotomy only the ECB seem to get away with. Australia don’t, India don’t, and with the disparity in income to the rest of the world, those are the nations England should be compared to. Only here is this given even the slightest credence. And that applies to all those years when England had a reasonable Test side and a piss-poor one day team too. It wasn’t an excuse then, it isn’t now, and winning World Cups is not a pretext for an inability to put 300 on the board in Tests.

Likewise, the way the debate around the public school contribution to the England team is framed is to miss the point entirely. Having more or less the entire batting order over an extended period of time having been privately educated is not grounds to attack the private sector, but to point out the hideous failure of English cricket to maximise the talent available to itself. There is just no excuse for that – it’s not about the 7% who make up the 94%, it’s about the 93% who only comprise the 6%. It is a total failure of the coaching structure to so appallingly waste the resources available, an abysmal flop in turning young players from an extraordinarily large intake into good cricketers

Shifting the county championship to the margins of the season, on green or tired pitches, undoubtedly has an impact, but it’s not just the hardware of when and where it is played, but also the software of the mindset of those who play in it. It might well be the case that players are choosing to thrash a quick thirty rather than knuckle down and battle through, but calling out a single player for thinking that way is all about that player. When it’s true to an extent of an entire generation, it’s about those in authority who have created the circumstances to allow it to happen.

The England hierarchy have encouraged it, the media have amplified it. Jason Roy was selected to open in Tests and the selectors applauded for their daring by far too many. There are still those calling for Liam Livingstone to be in the side, not because he might make a Test cricketer (for all I know, he might), but because he plays sexy cricket, hits the ball a long way and gains the pundit plenty of column inches to push the case.

What did anyone expect? There is no plan, except to make as much money as possible, not for the wider benefit of the game of cricket, but for the bank balances of those involved in the game professionally. Don’t expect those who rely on it for their living to come out and be publicly angry about it, because their livelihood and comfortable income is dependent on more of the same. The ECB officers have seen huge rises in salaries (well, apart from the expendables at a lower level who they made redundant) and it’s impossible to avoid the suspicion that lining their own nests is the principal reason for far too many ECB acolytes, as each big deal provides yet another large bonus, yet another big pay rise. Consequences? There are none. If they go, it’s with a fat cheque. If they play, they earn more and aren’t going to complain in a short career.

All of this was expected. All of it was coming. This is not accidental, it’s a consequence of repeated decisions made by those in power who remain entirely unaccountable to anyone outside the small circle of people for whom the mutual financial benefit overrides any other consideration. Sure, we can call out the players, who haven’t been good enough and have folded repeatedly. We can call out the coaching team who have made baffling selectorial decisions. And many of those will pay the price for this debacle, for sacrifices are demanded. What will it change though? What material difference will it make? England can get a better coach, but Duncan Fletcher had far more to work with than whoever takes over from Silverwood, and had the backing of an organisation that was determined to improve the quality of the player base.

Yes, I’m still angry. But not at the results, I’m angry it has taken this entirely inevitable shoeing for too many to wonder what has been going on. What the bloody hell did they expect to happen? What the bloody hell are they going to do about it? Because if the answer is to tinker around the margins, to call for the latest flavour of the month to be shoved into the team or to debate which bang average opener needs to replace the other bang average opener, then get used to more of this. Far too many people have been warning of what would happen and dismissed as cranks and extremists, well the ECB and all those who hang on to their coat-tails and line their pockets accordingly have made this. They should own it, they should take responsibility. But they won’t, and that, above all else, is why I might be still angry, but most of all, I’m contemptuous of them.

Down the Only Road I’ve Ever Known

I suppose it’s always possible England will pull this one out of the fire. I suppose it’s possible that for the rest of the series they’re competitive, and even in losing, do so while having their moments. Knee-jerk responses to a Test disaster can make fools of anyone, when in the following match a team roars back and batters their opponents. It’s always possible. It doesn’t feel that way here, but if that happens this time, feel free to thumb your nose at me.

Getting walloped in Australia isn’t especially unusual either. Anyone who is reminded of their advancing years constantly by being referred to as Covid-vulnerable (who knew that was going to a signifier?) is pretty used to it, the exceptions in ’78/9, ’86/7 and 2010/11 being glorious interludes in a regular diet of being flogged and receiving gleefully abusive messages from friends and family who have unaccountably chosen to identify as Australian. But there’s always been a particular narrative around the reasons why and the happenstance that led to it. Throughout the nineties England were a moderate team, but Australia were extremely bloody good, and consolation could be found (to a degree) by the way they rampaged across the planet hammering almost everyone – which is another reason why we were all West Indies fans.

By the early years of this century, England were losing, but they were fighting – they were merely completely outclassed. We can accept that, and the way England were progressing generally meant that there was hope things might change. The 2006/7 whitewash was infuriating, but that was a good England team against a good Australian team bent on revenge, and England imploded. Sporting meltdowns happen without having wider ramifications, and in a team environment that sense of doom can spread like wildfire. 2013/14 felt like the end of an era, and it proved to be as well, and in any case the fallout from that swiftly moved off the backpages and onto the front, as the ECB embarked on a civil war with their own game’s supporters. In that, the sheer sense of anger (on both sides) left everyone engaged in the fight and what would happen next. Whatever the wrongs of what happened – and we may have said one or two things at the time – it was a body of cricket followers thoroughly invested in what was happening.

There was a degree of hangover from that four years ago too, though the fire had faded. Some of the media clung to the wreckage as though a few floating planks comprised part of the ship of English cricket, but the emperor (nothing wrong with a metaphor transition) was as naked as the day he was born, the pointing of fingers amounted to demanding to know what was going to be done about it.

This time around we know what was done about it. To make things worse. It’s not just that this is a poor England team, because God knows we’ve seen enough of those, it’s that there is no way of thinking anything other than that this is likely to be routine. The Hundred isn’t to blame for England’s Test woes, let’s put that to bed right now. But the decision-making process and strategy (loosely termed) adopted by the ECB that led to the Hundred as the culmination of their intentions is, and those behind it will be moving on soon enough leaving the trail of wreckage in their wake.

What did they expect to happen? Increasing the focus on white ball cricket was a reasonable enough aim, as English cricket had certainly undervalued it for a long time. It gave us a World Cup, sure. It’ll likely give England a shot at another one in the coming years, and maybe a T20 World Cup or two as well. Fine. But the either/or mentality of it has never made a great deal of sense when other countries have managed to create good Test and short form teams, and in any case England’s historic ability to have truly crap Test teams at the same time as truly crap 50 over teams was a notable achievement in itself.

But this team can’t bat. The best bowlers, even taking into account the loss of key personnel through injury, aren’t that far off the point where they too move into more vulnerable Covid categories, which is a damn fine tribute to their longevity and skill, and maybe it is the case that when they are gone we’ll appreciate their replacements more. But it’s the batting, stupid. The batting. We can all pile into Rory Burns for his series to date, but it’s not like there’s an 8,000 Test run replacement obviously in the wings. Sure, some will read that and say Sibley was discarded too quickly, or that Sam Robson ought to be given another go (a fair point too), but it doesn’t change the material shortage in players who might be expected to turn into Test level batsmen entirely because the structure of English cricket isn’t going to create them.

We have Joe Root, a batter who is genuinely outstanding and deserves all the praise he gets, and that’s it. Ben Stokes? In a stronger team he would be the wildcard, someone to come in and devastate the opposition, to be that special cricketer who can change a game in a session. In this team he’s the second best batsman. Stokes is wonderful. He should not be head and shoulders above all bar one of the batting line up.

The same applies to the role of spinner. We keep moving from one to the next, and the next will always be the solution and never is. They’re all ok, looked at in the right light and playing in the right conditions. None of them are going to change the world, because English cricket isn’t going to produce anyone who does. Shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic doesn’t even begin to cover it.

And then there’s their heads. We’re one and a bit Tests into this series and England look completely gone. It’s not just the clear awareness of impending collapse when they bat. The dropped catches, the disparity in no balls bowled, the frankly weird tactics (let’s bowl Joe Root as dusk falls in a pink ball Test) are not indicative necessarily of anyone in charge having odd ideas about cricket as much as evidence of a team and coaching staff whose minds are in a whirl and unable to think straight. That kind of bewildered groupthink is easy to see from the outside, but very hard to get out of on the inside, until someone yells “Let’s get back to basics”, which always goes swimmingly anyway.

All of which means the most probable outcome here is that things are going to get worse. Not just this series, though if there’s something to truly envy about Australian sporting teams it’s their manner of emulating their local sea fauna by hunting down their prey once it’s flailing in the water remorselessly. But beyond this series, indeed for the forseeable future. Many a fan in past series has considered a thrashing by our warmest enemies as the price worth paying for change. It’s not the same as wanting the team to lose, which has always been a lazy accusation when this subject comes up, but it is about wanting to see action on resolving the problems.

The ECB aren’t going to change.

That, in a nutshell is the despair felt by many, and the more problematic indifference and ennui felt by others. If England get the kind of tonking that looks distinctly possible, we are unlikely to see a Lord McLaurin institute a root and branch reform in order to stop this happening in future, we’ll instead have an ECB expressing disappointment along with a fair supply of platitudes about the lessons that will be learned. It’s not that the cupboard is bare, it’s that English cricket governance took an axe to the cupboard and turned it into an iced water dispenser.

It’s what happens when that reality dawns more widely than among the hardcore cricket fraternity that is the big question. And that, in itself, is the fight to come.

Watcha Gonna Do About It?

What a strange time for the world of cricket it has been. On and off the field it’s been engulfed in controversy and ennui, a peculiar combination, and one that seems to be a constant state. And it’s so strange to think about and write about. The goings on at Yorkshire and the ECB have been depressing and enraging to watch, but also without creating a desperate desire to write about it all. There were some attempts, some false starts and the realisation that Danny was always going to do it better, so here it is if you’ve not seen it yet: https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2021/11/14/who-watches-the-watchmen/

On the field we had the T20 World Cup, which passed by offering an acceptable degree of entertainment, without ever becoming a central sporting event of the year. Partly that’s because the conditions made it far too inclined towards the winner of the toss (and credit to Aaron Finch for directly acknowledging that), but also the sheer frequency of T20 cricket took away the sense of occasion. Covid restrictions mean there’s another T20 World Cup next year anyway, so it was hard to care overly beyond a mild sense of interest in what was going on. Once the World Cup was over, several teams dived straight into more T20 internationals in bi-lateral series, adding to the sense of it being nothing more than routine, a distraction.

Is this the real future of cricket? Because it does seem to be. It’s not so much the format here, as the sense of a diet of constant cricket, shorn of context or importance. If that is how it feels for a World Cup, then there are real issues to be faced. Now, I’m not (quite) so self-centred as to believe personal doubts translate to anything wider or more meaningful, but it’s me writing this, and I’ll have my say. It may be instead that most people were fully engaged in the competition and the outcome, but I have my doubts. Growing the game is hugely laudable, but a problem does arise if that interest becomes wider but ever shallower, the game more disposable and less a matter of passion and love. Because then boredom or indifference becomes an ever greater risk. Lots of sports are having to deal with that, and the determination to dilute what is there is hardly confined to cricket (such as the wish for a biennial football World Cup), but cricket is different in that it has always had international series outside of the relatively recent competitions, and they actually seemed to have their own importance too. Primarily, those were the Test series, but not entirely – 50 over series might not have meant as much, but the outcome still mattered generally.

It then leads to wondering about the audience for such matters. Going to live sport remains (usually) a hugely enjoyable experience irrespective of gripes about cost, accommodation or the total lack of interest in supporter welfare, but there is a difference between going for the spectacle and experience and going because of a passionate interest in the outcome. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, it’s certainly not to say it is definitely declining, but cricket increasingly lacks that competitive context that other sports have, which is where the risk of falling interest in the outcome becomes a real risk. It has at least appeared on the radar of the ICC, with the institution of the World Test Championship being directly down to those concerns. Whatever its flaws, adding a context to bilateral series is a helpful innovation. But Test cricket remains relatively rare compared to the shorter forms, making both its strengths and weaknesses in attracting attention more acute.

Cricket has always been a little different for the spectator to other sports, the tribalism of football and rugby does have echoes in cricket, both at county and international level, but not to the same extent. That’s probably down to the nature of the game as much as anything – even a wicket doesn’t invoke the same explosion of crowd emotion as a goal or a try does, but it is present, and it is valid, and unlike those shorter sports cricket has the ability to ramp up tension like little else. Yet crowds do respond to even the most irrelevant of matches when a player does something special, so it is a feeling that perhaps isn’t matched by the available evidence. It could also be a function of personally getting older. Certainly I remember my father being far less passionate about England doing well than I was at the time, and also him telling me that it hadn’t always been that way in his case either.

But it’s hard to avoid the feeling of not caring all that much, which is an interesting place to be with the Ashes coming up. What has always been the iconic series for English and Australian fans doesn’t seem to have quite the cachet that it once did. Again, this may not be inherent, as an expectation that England may face an especially difficult winter does reduce the degree of anticipation quite considerably. The last two years around the world too may be a significant element of it; sport has provided a pleasant diversion from more pressing issues, but has rarely seemed less vital or important in the context of wider life.

Perhaps it is reading too much into it, but there also seems a sense of the journalists trying to convince themselves about how much they really care in their written copy. It’s perfunctory, not engaged. Not about wider societal matters, such as the Azeem Rafiq testimony, for such injustice will lend itself to passionate writing from those who do it for a living, but in terms of the game itself. England’s defeat to New Zealand in the World T20, something that might once have generated pages of invective or analysis seemed to be met with something of a shrug. Sure, it’s T20, by definition it’s pretty disposable and forgettable, but the sense of….well, boredom with it all was hard to avoid.

This might be the greatest danger facing the sport, not the horrendous mess so much of it is in, but if indifference is the net response. The people behind County Cricket Matters (Annie Chave, sometimes of these pages in particular) evoke admiration not just for their cause, but also the sheer passion they bring to it. That so many don’t share it is somewhat beside the point, to be so invested in what they believe is the essence of a love of sport, and perhaps the worst part of how the ECB run the game is their apparent determination to crush that spirit. For if these people give up, then the game itself is vastly the poorer. Any and every sport needs people furious, angry, livid with what is going on, and not prepared to take it any more. Cricket’s drift to a form of entertainment and nothing more robs the game of those who truly care about it, where spectators are little different to those tuning in to Strictly every Saturday. That makes it easier to monetise, and as a result avaricious cricket boards will likely see few problems with it, and they’ll have moved on by the time the consequences of that are felt. But it also means that if the rank and file don’t care, they won’t invest their personal time in developing and supporting it. That is fatal for a sport, and drives its move to the margins at an ever faster rate, while allowing governing bodies to point at the revenue streams and insist they’re doing everything they can.

It is impossible for a blog like this to stay permanently furious at everything (and not especially healthy either), but it’s hard to avoid the feeling of having lost the argument, the game and the sport. It’s moved beyond us, morphed into something different, where the players are rotating background cast members rather than Top Trump cards to be argued over. Cricketing heroes won’t go away, Ben Stokes making himself available for the Ashes sent a frisson of excitement through many; but equally the retirement of AB De Villiers from all cricket didn’t generate the kind of emotion that someone of that stature ought to have done, as the circus swiftly moved on.

It is of increasing concern that the fears that cricket will self-destruct becomes instead a fear that its slide into irrelevance is not about small viewing figures, but about indifference as to sporting outcome. For sport to mean anything at all, for it to be the “most important, least important thing” there has to be an emotional investment in what transpires. Franchise cricket’s explosion around the world may be robbing that essence of sport from itself, and alienating those who always spent their time caring deeply about it.

But it could just be me.

Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears A Crown

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

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

The Ashes

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

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

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

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

Pakistan/West Indies

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

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

The Hundred

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

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

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

Sky TV Deal

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

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

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

Yorkshire

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

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

County Cricket

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

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

Women’s Cricket

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

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

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

Participation

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

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

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

Restructuring

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Otherwise, we’re screwed.

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

Lies, Damn Lies, And The Hundred

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

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

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

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

TV Viewers

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

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

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

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

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

Attendances

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

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

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

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

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

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

Participation

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

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

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

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

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

That’s A Bonus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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