World Cup Matches 44 & 45: Sri Lanka vs India, Australia vs South Africa (and a bit of TV, FTA and the ICC)

And so we arrive at the end of the group stage, and more by luck than judgement, there is even a little bit to play for in the last two games. Not in terms of qualification though, after Pakistan’s always likely to be vain attempt to gatecrash the top four ended in victory, but not by enough, against Bangladesh.

Thus, it’s merely the order of the top four that is in question, and the incentive, such as it is, of who plays whom in the semi-finals. The most likely outcome is that Australia will play New Zealand at Old Trafford, and that India will play England, once again at Edgbaston. It’s probable that India and Australia would prefer to play New Zealand, both because of their recent stumbles, and also because England are unquestionably a side everyone else fears somewhat, even if they would certainly feel they can be beaten. But it’s hard to see beyond victories for both the Big Three members playing tomorrow, and that the semi-finalists includes them plus England is unsurprising, if somewhat depressing. But then, the whole structure of cricket at a global level is intended to allow them to maximise their income and power, so it is exactly as desired in the corridors of power. In most sports, an unexpected outcome in a tournament is something to be celebrated, only cricket responds by trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Today Sky Sports announced that if England reach the World Cup final, it will be broadcast free to air. At present it isn’t quite clear what “free to air” would mean, but it appears highly unlikely it will be via a mainstream channel with a large reach. This isn’t so surprising, there are other major sporting events on the same day, such as the men’s Wimbledon final and the British Grand Prix (another outstanding piece of scheduling for cricket), and clearing the decks for six hours of cricket at short notice is somewhat impractical, albeit it would be amusing to see the response if a main broadcaster expressed interest in doing so. What seems more likely is for it to be on something like Sky Mix, or even online via Youtube or Sky’s own app and website – the BT approach to screening the Champions League final.

Such an initiative is to be welcomed, but the focus and pressure on Sky to allow it to be shown free rather lets the ICC specifically, and the ECB more generally given this tournament isn’t in their purview, off the hook. The World Cup is behind a paywall because the policy of the ICC, as instructed by its members, was to maximise revenue in their TV contracts. The moment that was the intention, pay TV was always going to be the only outcome. The principal contract for England, India and Australia is held by Star Sports, who paid $2 billion back in 2014 for the rights to ICC tournaments up to 2023. It was for them to then sub-contract to national broadcasters and, naturally as a business, to maximise their revenue accordingly. Everything stems from that, the drive for revenue at every stage, and the reason why such tournaments not only won’t be on free to air, but effectively can’t be.

This isn’t Sky’s fault, they too are a business trying to make money, but it is the ICC’s for making the financial aspect the key one. To suggest, as some notable employees of Sky have done, that this is down to the free to air broadcasters failing to bid is a specious argument – they simply cannot financially compete on the same level as pay TV, and see little point in spending money preparing bids, or even considering preparing bids, for something they cannot win. It almost certainly is the case that the kind of wall to wall coverage required is now only in the purview of the satellite broadcasters here, but it’s still a matter of justifying the status quo by pretending that the creation of this situation is entirely separate from the bidding processes in the current market.

Where it does get more interesting is in the argument as to whether some cricket on free to air would benefit Sky themselves. This is one of those that only those inside broadcasting (we’re outside that too) can answer, but holding expensive rights to a sport in major decline cannot be a healthy financial position for them either, even if the fear in the future is that cricket sinks so far that Sky will be able to buy all the rights for a song as no one else cares. It seems unlikely this will happen for as long as there is more than one pay TV broadcaster, for cricket is a boon for them, filling lots of screen time for comparatively little cost compared to, say, drama. In any case, to say no one else cares about cricket is a weak defence. Firstly, the single positive of the Hundred, that there will be some shown on the BBC, implies otherwise to at least some extent, but more than that, if more cricket is of no interest to the terrestrial broadcasters, it’s because cricket isn’t of sufficient interest to them. But it was, at one point. And now it isn’t. For the ECB to have failed to nurture their broadcast partnerships over the last 15 years has been an abrogation of their responsibilities to the game. At another time, a World Cup the majority were unable to watch would have provoked howls of outrage. Now it is largely indifference whether they can or they can’t, and limited awareness that it’s even on.

Equally, there is the wider argument about the role of the various governing bodies. It is simply wrong to argue that all the ICC can possibly do is sell the contracts to make as much money as possible, because it isn’t what other sports do at all. Wimbledon could certainly make far more from selling off their event to the highest bidder, but refuse to because they value the exposure they get on the BBC. More pertinently, World Rugby, for their own showcase World Cup, specifically talk about finding free to air partners. Indeed, their wording is very precise:

“Securing deals with major free-to-air broadcasters who are passionate about sport is central to World Rugby’s mission to make rugby accessible in a global context. With each Rugby World Cup we are broadening the sport’s reach and appeal through a broadcast and digital strategy that is aimed at reaching, engaging and inspiring new audiences within existing and emerging rugby markets.”

This is completely alien to the approach taken by cricket, to the point that it is diametrically opposed in almost every clause in that paragraph. Very few people are so single minded as to believe that everything should be on free to air, irrespective of contract value, and given World Rugby’s activities and attitudes in other areas, it’s hardly that they can be held up as notable supporters of the common man and woman in every aspect. But it is a striking difference in strategy, to intend the widest possible audience for their blue riband event.

It is highly noticeable that Sky appear to feel they are on the defensive about this whole subject. It’s not necessarily why they’ve made the decision to offer the final conditionally free, but also how some of their staff appear to be spending considerable time messaging cricket supporters and blogs with impassioned defences of their position. It’s a different approach, certainly, and perhaps not a coordinated one, but the righteous indignation, when it isn’t even them who are bearing the brunt of the annoyance, is interesting.

What the viewing figures might be for any final, broadcast for free, with England in it will be interesting. It really isn’t just the free aspect either – buried away on a minor channel that only subscribers are aware exists is not going to cause a dramatic change, although in a perfect scenario, a very tight, exciting final might just allow word of mouth to spread, and for non-adherents of the game to seek it out.

For this is a positive, without any question. How big a positive is more debatable. If the stars were to align, then just maybe it could grab attention, even with all the competition. This is what every cricket fan surely wants.

One other small item. It’s been reported that the other counties are displeased with Warwickshire for offering guaranteed contracts with the Birmingham Phoenix franchise in an effort to lure them to the county. This is the kind of esoteric, obscure item that barely anyone notices, but has a big impact. For the Hundred franchises are meant to be entirely separate to the counties. But what did the other counties expect? That this would be adhered to? That it wasn’t really going to go down the route of concentrating power and wealth in the hands of the chosen ones? We get accused of being cynical too often, but to not see this coming is extraordinarily naive on the part of those upset by it. It’s more likely to have been a deliberate strategic approach by a governing body that has long disliked having 18 counties to deal with.

Update: the article concerning the recruitment for the Hundred has been pulled, and according to George Dobell, a retraction sought. Curioser and curioser.

Comments as ever below.

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Nostradamus And The Ghosts Of Cricket’s Past

With the Indians triumphant in Australia, South Africa dominating against Pakistan and New Zealand comfortably beating Sri Lanka in the end, it’s that time of year when cricket news is in short supply and the various media outlets (or those that are left) look for something (anything) to fill their pages with until the new English season begins.

Unless the ECB does something monumentally stupid again, which is by no means out of the question, the media looks to pad their pages with the ‘player rankings of the last series’ or the ‘10 best innings by our saviour Sir Alastair Cook’. We at BOC are not entirely immune to this, so we have come up with a few things that we’d like to see in the year ahead, that are unlikely to happen. This is meant as a humorous take and something not to be taken seriously, unless any of the below does happen, then of course we will claim credit through our fantastic cricket insight:

  1. In an effort to garner more favour with the London masses and to get with the times, Lords declares that every Saturday at the Test will be a ‘no toff’ day. Ticket prices are reduced for the day, the champagne tents are all shut and anyone wearing the egg and bacon colours, a blazer or red trousers is automatically refused admission. Though fancy dress remains banned (some things will never change), the Saturday at Lords is something all players begin to look forward to due to the more lively atmosphere and the lack of ‘Hooray Henrys’ sleeping off their long lunch in the member pavilion.
  2. During one of the T100 ball trials, Tom Harrison is hit square on the head from a Jos Buttler six and sadly suffers a permanent brain injury. After a long search through a top headhunter, the ECB finally secure their wish of finding someone with Harrison’s knowledge and foresight and hire Barney the Dinosaur. Though there is initial scepticism from the public about Barney’s credentials for the role, however he soon wins the public round by cancelling the T100 forthwith commenting ‘any stupid animal’ can see this a total dog of an idea.
  3. Adil Rashid has a stunning World Cup in England and finishes as the top wicket taker with 24 wickets at 11. To make things even more special for Rashid, he hits the winning runs in the final against India and reveals a T-shirt with the slogan ‘talk nah Mike’. Mike Selvey works himself into such a furore that he spontaneously explodes.
  4. There are suspicions of foul play in the Ashes, when a recently returned David Warner is seen wheeling in an industrial sander into Lords. This is further exacerbated by two individuals with a striking resemblance to the Marsh brothers dressed up as groundsmen taking a rake to the pitch. The Australian mens team is found guilty and sent home in disgrace and is replaced by the Australian Women’s cricket team. Thankfully the women’s team is far more competitive than their male counterparts finally losing a tight series 2-1.
  5. Colin Graves decides to branch out from cricket and try his hand as a current affairs commentator. Sadly this goes predictably awry when he calls the royal family ‘completely average’ in an interview and that they ‘should be slimmed down and modernised’ to reach out to a new audience, mainly the mothers and children in society. Graves is locked back in his cupboard for the rest of the year.
  6. In a surprise move, both the BBC and Sky Cricket agree on a ‘no dickhead’ rule in the commentary box. In one fell swoop, Messer’s Vaughan, Boycott, Swann, Hughes, Bumble, Botham and Warne are immediately removed from our airwaves. The nation rejoices as they are replaced with sensible cricket focused commentators such as Rob Key, Ian Ward, Alison Mitchell, Isa Guha, Marcus Trescothick and Jeremy Coney. In other news, Michael Vaughan is deported to Australia on a permanent basis so he can join in on the Channel 7 ‘bantz’ and Shane Warne has his passport revoked permanently.
  7. Simon Hughes decides that being the ‘Editor’ of the Cricketer is not enough for his enormous ego. After ranking himself as the most important person in cricket in his magazine, Hughes decides to spread his wings and publish a book re-writing the history of Catholicism, undeterred by having no understanding of the subject nor being a Catholic. Things get particularly strange when Hughes turns up to work every day in full priest attire and declares himself available for the position of the next pope. The Catholic Church outraged by such slander decides to nail Hughes to the cross above the mound stand at Lords. Everyone in the world nods sagely with approval.
  8. Sir Alastair Cook, now no longer eulogized over by the national media after his retirement, even though Sky decides to show his last English century in every rain break, decided to get  back into the national limelight by signing up to ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’. Unfortunately Cook, completely overwhelmed by his surroundings and unable to suppress his hunting instincts, shoots up the whole set killing a number of endangered species in the jungle. Despite all this, Cook finishes an honorable second in the tournament owing to the fact that people keep forgetting he’s there. Jonathan Agnew goes berserk on Twitter.

harrison&graves

The above is meant to be a lighter take on some of the issues affecting cricket in 2019, I mean there is no way that Lords bans the upper classes and lets the ‘Hoi Polloi’ in especially as business people need to be entertained through expensive hospitality packages. The other predictions, well you never know…

Joking aside, there is a serious angle to this article as cricket faces up to one of the biggest challenges that it has faced in a very long time. For me personally, the main thing that I would like to see in 2019 is a return to the game I and many others on the blog first fell in love with many moons ago, no matter how remote that chance may be. Cricket has got lost in the vortex of various power struggles, administrator incompetence, obscene greed and the constant need of the authorities to keep changing the game. The main result of these being that the fans that have followed the game for many years and have ‘put their money in the administrators pot’ are now walking away at an alarming rate. In what other sport, would you get other administrators making whole sale changes to their core game? You don’t see golf reducing the majors to a two-day event, nor would you see tennis being played by 6 people on court or snooker being played over the best of 3 frames, yet cricket can’t help itself, all in the name ‘finding these elusive new fans’ whilst alienating those that have followed the game for 20 years plus.

We are also seeing cricket fatigue on a major basis, with the Big Bash a great example of administrators trying to cram as much in, irrespective of quality, to feed the golden goose. The Hundred, if it ever gets off the ground, will be exactly the same. A behemoth crammed into the county season, without any support of fans or the counties, purely designed to try to make the ECB as much money as possible whilst they can still can, badged under the name of ‘growing the supporter base’. Some people are big white ball cricket fans and whilst it doesn’t appeal to me, I can understand the game has an element of skill that is different to the Test arena. What I can’t understand is how anyone bar the gamblers, would want to see the same players play the Big Bash, IPL, T20 Blast, BBL, Emirates T10, CPL, PSL, Hundred, Mzanzi Super League etc week in, week out. That’s without the questionable undercurrent that underlies more than a few of these tournaments.

Of course, the huge influx of white ball cricket has been massively detrimental to the red ball game, as this gets pushed further and further into the extreme margins of many a domestic season. Even if I wasn’t suffering from cricket fatigue especially with regards to the National team, my ability to watch any of the county championship has been massively reduced, with most games now starting on a Monday, no doubt to fit in some more time for the white ball game. Most counties have the opportunity to play on a Saturday once or twice during the season and whilst in the past people would have said that this was down to not clashing with club cricket, the fact that people playing the sport is at an all time low with many clubs unable to field a full side, make this argument completely redundant. This of course, has directly contributed to the reduced quality currently seen within the Test arena, with many players who come into the various Test sides, lacking the quality or patience to become successful at the longer format of the game. T20, T10 or Hundred ball rubbish has completely changed the outlook of many a young cricket player, with many now more satisfied to make money in the shorter format of the game than to hone their skills to be successful at the longer format. This is why we are seeing so many mismatches in the Test arena, with away series wins very much the rarity (well done India btw) as batsmen and bowlers are unable to adapt their game to foreign conditions having been bought up on seaming or turning pitches exclusively. The Test arena is a mess at the moment and I don’t see it improving any time soon. Australia can’t cobble together a decent batting attack, England have had the same problems at opener, number 3 and in the spin department for what seems like an eternity, India’s win away from home is very much a rarity and that was against a poor Aussie side, the South African’s are talented but flawed with the same being said for New Zealand and Pakistan and the rest aren’t really worth writing home about.

As for English cricket and especially the ECB, when they are not actively shooting themselves in the foot, they are busy trying to sting the remaining fans for what they can. £100+ for a day at the Ashes with two poor teams, I’d rather not thank you. The forced hundred ball format, which will probably push the English game further to bankruptcy rather than attracting the new fans the ECB cravenly desires it to. This interestingly enough has led to a number of high-profile, unlikely pariahs campaigning against it on Twitter, not that I would ever suggest that this is rather hypocritical as a number of them could have voted against it in the first place (the ‘this isn’t what they promised line’ holds no sway with me, I wouldn’t trust the ECB to make a mustard sandwich let alone organise a new cricket tournament). The constant pandering to Sky to protect their ‘oh so special’ TV deal, whilst the tacit refusal to acknowledge that taking the game away from ‘free to air’ is a major reason why cricket has become such a peripheral sport is truly gobsmacking. The constant leaking of ‘ECB propaganda’ to friendly journalists (used in the loosest possible terms) to feed to the masses is again shameful – just remember “Alastair Cook good, Kevin Pietersen bad” and another reason why the fan base is both shrinking in size and those that do still follow are completely divided in their views. I could go on, but I think everyone knows that anything else I write will not be a singing endorsement of our administrators, nor do I have a platform that is long enough.

For me personally, this is a particularly sad state of affairs and a big reason why I am not as active as I was on the blog. I used to be a massive cricket fan and more pertinently a fan of the England cricket team. I would get upset when England lost in the Test arena (I became immune to losing in the white ball game some time before) and often it could ruin my weekend, I went on 3 foreign tours and before last year had been to at least one Test day in England for the previous 16 years (and often more than one day). I’ve lost my passion however, as a bit like Dmitri, I write best when I have a bit of fire in my belly and an unjust cause to rile against. However, I’ve got fed up at shouting at the stars for a team I have little in common with against a board that holds its’ fans in complete contempt. Sure I still enjoy watching Test cricket, but these days I prefer watching series that don’t involve England and/or are competitive, which as I mentioned above is more of a rarity than ever these days. I no longer rush back from work to watch the highlights any more, nor do I get up 2 hours before I need to, so that I can watch a session before I head out to work, I’m fatigued and more than a little fed up and the reason for this sits at the very doorstep of both our national and international administrators.

I hope that I’m wrong and equally hopeful that I can regain the passion I had for the game I had a number of years ago and when I started writing for BOC, but I’m not holding my breath. The ECB continues to alienate me from the game I have followed for 25 years and barring a dramatic change in their modus operandi, it won’t just be me walking away from the game but many of those who have supported English cricket for a lot longer. The ECB might not mourn their loss now, but irony does tends to have a wicked sense of humour in the long run.

England vs Australia: 4th ODI Open Thread

After the demolition of the Australian bowling that was either magnificent or an illustration of the continuing descent of bowlers into batsman fodder, depending on perspective, it’s off to Chester-le-Street for the fourth match of a series England have already won.

As so often with cricket, as much interest can be found in what is happening off the field, and the release of the Future Tours Programme for 2018-23 (having left it a mite late) is something to which we’ll return.  Much of the content has been trailed heavily – the creation of a World Test Championship and an ODI League for example, but perhaps the most striking thing is how for England, Australia and India, playing each other will take up around half of their entire Test playing programmes.  It appears familiarity and boredom with the same opponents is not a factor to be considered.

Comments on today’s ODI and whatever else takes your fancy below.

Rubble, Muddle, Toil and Trouble

England picked a good week to be bowled out for 58.  Whatever the embarrassment of their likely defeat in Auckland, it’s going to be overshadowed by the events at Newlands. Still, at the very least, they can point to their predicament being one of ineptitude rather than nefariousness, which in the current climate is an achievement of sorts. 

The only reason England aren’t already 1-0 down is because of the weather, and it is a reflection of how disastrous their match position was that the loss of nearly two days play still has them likely to lose.  They put up a fairly decent display overall, but by this point of proceedings it requires miracle days to even up the ledger.

Henry Nicholls, batting for the fourth day in a row in this Test, made his highest first class score to take New Zealand to 427-8 at the declaration,  while for England Stuart Broad bowled pretty well, keeping things tight and picking up wickets.  It always seems strange to praise a bowler for keeping things tight, but in the circumstance of trying to keep a deficit down and limit batting time for your own side, it turns all bowlers into negative containing types rather than wicket takers.  Given the pitch was still decent for batting – and after all only two days old in reality – they could have been forgiven for cursing their own batsmen repeatedly for their profligacy as they laboured to create any chance of note. When you’ve been bowled out for 58 in a good surface is not the time to criticise the lack of penetration in the bowling attack, reasonable general point though it might be.

One sided Tests are never particularly interesting, and they only become so when it gets to the meat of the second innings, watching the usually doomed attempts to stave off defeat.  Invariably, teams bat better second time round, equally invariably they still lose.  Thus it was that England certainly made a better fist of things, while at the same time still looking like there was only one outcome.  Cook fell early again to complete a poor Test match – note that much comment once again referred to Root’ s conversion problem rather than Cook’s lack of runs over the last couple of years.  Melbourne still looks like an outlier.

Stoneman and Root set about compiling a partnership, but fell late on, the captain to the last ball of the day one delivery after taking a painful blow on the hand.  Root is clearly deeply frustrated at his habit of not going on to make big scores when well set, but England’s problems are deeper set than one batsman failing to make the most of being in.

Assuming the weather stays fair, seven wickets should be well within New Zealand’s capability, and while it’s always possible that there will be a repeat of Matt Prior’s heroics last time, England neither deserve a draw nor do they give off the impression of a team capable of it.  

Naturally enough, the post play interviews spent as much time talking about the conduct of the Australian team as the match itself.  Stuart Broad was clearly itching to give them both barrels and barely contained his amusement at the predicament in which they find themselves.  He did manage to make a few pertinent points concerning hypocrisy and his own treatment at the hands of the crowd, which is neither here nor there, but at the behest of the Australian coach, which is. He also took the opportunity to imply that it isn’t the first time Australia have altered the state of the ball, couching it in a dig about being surprised that this is supposedly the first time they’ve acted this way by saying he didn’t see why they’d changed a method that had hitherto been working.  Broad is often good value in these circumstances, given that Aussie baiting is something he is unquestionably good at, but it doesn’t mean his words should be taken as being any more objectively true than those of Darren Lehmann. Yet it is also true that footage of Bancroft putting sugar in his pockets during the Ashes emerged overnight – which is something Australia are going to have to get used to as people scour the footage for evidence of previous attempts.

The reaction to the pre-meditated ball tampering has been interesting.  Australian supporters are aghast, ashamed and in shock, which perhaps highlights self perception of the way Australia are meant to play cricket in their eyes.  Outside the country it’s rather different, a deep sense of amusement and schadenfreude at the self-appointed arbiters of cricketing morality caught out deliberately cheating.

For the crime is not the worst that could have been committed, reflected in it being a Level 2 or at most Level 3 offence in the ICC disciplinary code.  One of the peculiarities of cricket remains the mobile moral code that considers some actions to be reprehensible and others part of the game, even when all are intended to gain an illegal advantage or deceive the umpires.  Ball tampering appears to be one of those where self righteous outrage is a common response to something most teams have been guilty of at various times.  Perhaps the greatest outrage is reserved for those who are caught.

There are a few exceptional circumstances to this one.  Many instances of it tend to be in the heat of the moment, rather than as here a deliberate plan concocted by the “leadership group” of the Australian team, the exception being in the legal dubious but impossible to police tactic of enhancing saliva through the sucking of sweets.  In that sense the mea culpa from Smith created more questions than answers.  His refusal to name names as to who was involved is not sustainable; the match referee and ICC will want to know who is to be punished, and a no comment won’t fly.  Equally, it beggars belief that Darren Lehmann wasn’t aware of any of it, the giveaway being the speed with which he radioed the 12th man to inform Bancroft he’d been caught.  Lastly on this particular element it is astounding that apparently not one player or staff member pointed out that this was a terrible idea, either for moral reasons or the simple practicality that being caught was so likely.  David Lloyd’s assertion that Australia are “out of control” is never more strongly supported than by the total absence of anyone with either a moral compass or a well developed sense of self-preservation. Above all else, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the leadership group are severely challenged in the mental department.

Smith is finished as captain, as is Warner as vice captain.  There is absolutely no prospect of them surviving this, the reaction from Australia has been so negative, and so angry, that it is merely a matter of time before both go, the only question being whether Cricket Australia will allow them to resign rather than sacking them.  There is simply no prospect of them remaining that is remotely sustainable – every time Australia gain reverse swing they will be alleged to be cheating, every time they claim a low catch they will again be called cheats, irrespective of the truth.  The stupidity of their actions means that for the next decade this will be thrown at them at every opportunity.  It is a PR catastrophe to which there’s only one response.

James Sutherland held a press conference overnight where he issued the usual platitudes about being aghast at what had happened, but he also made the interesting comment that he’d had cause to speak to Smith before about the behaviour of the team.  In the first instance this suggests either that it was hardly a bollocking or on the other that it was ignored by the team to the extent that they felt ball tampering was a reasonable response to the concerns.  Doubling up on things is an oddly impressive response in a sense.  Either Cricket Australia didn’t care about the stench of hypocrisy emanating from Australian cricket, or the team didn’t care what he thought.  Both reinforce the out of control criticism.

Few international sides are angels, and most have behaved poorly at different times, not least England.  But no others have taken it upon themselves to define how everyone else should behave and claim the moral high ground even when it is a laughable position.  Prior to these particular events, they had complained bitterly about the treatment of the players (and players’ wives) at the hands of the South African crowds.  And fair enough too, it was unedifying – but for the complaint to come from a side whose coach had openly called for Australian crowds to send Stuart Broad home in tears, it was another example of an extraordinarily lacking in self awareness perception as being the good guys, oblivious as to how they were seen elsewhere.

There is no reason to assume that the ball tampering was a regular act – though equally the protestations that this was the first time it had ever happened were greeted with derision given this is the response every time Australia are caught out doing something wrong – but Australia’s behaviour during the Ashes left a lot to be desired, as did the pious manner in which they justified themselves.  This speaks to the heart of the difference between self image and outside observation, and explains precisely the glee with which this has been received outside Australia.  Ball tampering is a relatively minor matter, hypocrisy is not, and it is the hypocrisy that has resonated.  Furthermore, the outrage from the Australian media raises plenty of eyebrows given their unstinting support for every dig and complaint issued from the team.  They have been the propaganda arm of Australian cricket far too often to now react with outrage At the team going one step too far.

At the time of writing, news broke that Smith had been suspended from the fourth Test and fined his match fee.  This is merely the beginning for him.  For the sake of trying to gain a tactical advantage in one Test he has damned himself for the rest of his career as a cheat, and if Any sympathy is to be extended in his direction, it is that one crass decision is going to haunt his career, not because of his guilt, but because of the pre-planned, deliberate nature of the offence.  Any penalties he receives from the ICC or Cricket Australia pale into insignificance compared to the reputational damage to himself.  Some have commented that he deserves some credit for fronting up and accepting his guilt at the press conference, but he spent more time talking about being embarrassed than he did apologising, indicating he still didn’t realise quite what they had done.  Equally, Cameron Bancroft was largely thrown under a bus, making it somewhat apposite that Sutherland then did the same to Smith.

As for Bancroft himself, being a junior player is no excuse whatever.  Everyone knows the rights and wrongs of something like this, and volunteering to be the patsy suggests a complete lack of perspective and intelligence.  It comes back again to being astounding that no one appears to have objected to the plan.

Over the longer term this may well benefit Australia, serving as a correction to their recent overbearing nature.  For everyone else it doesn’t offer the slightest opportunity to jump on to the moral high ground so rapidly vacated.  All teams have been behaving poorly in one manner of another and none of them can claim to be the wronged party on a regular basis.  Equally, and taking into account that this still isn’t the worst crime to have committed on the cricket field, it provides an opportunity for the authorities to clamp down hard on some attitudes and confrontational acts that have been pissing off a lot of people all around the world.  

National teams are not a law unto themselves.  This represents an opportunity to reinforce that point 

I Won’t Forget A Single Day, Believe Me

Whilst England were in the process of finishing the year on a high in Melbourne (#39’s words and not mine), something a lot more important for the fate of Test cricket was happening in South Africa. For the first time since 1973, there was a four-day Test match. Whilst Zimbabwe collapsed in an embarrassing heap and lost within two days, it gives us the clearest idea yet of what the future holds for cricket’s longest and oldest format.

In October, the ICC agreed to allow four-day Tests for a trial period until 2019. The main argument made at the time by ICC chief executive Dave Richardson was that it would help the smaller Test nations like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland to find gaps in the schedules to get them much-needed games. In reality, it’s obviously all about money. Many Test series are not particularly profitable, and cutting the length of the games also reduces the costs for the home board.

The game in Port Elizabeth, whilst massively one-sided, did give us a look at the playing conditions for the latest variation of Test cricket. The main highlights of these are that play is extended by half an hour with 8 extra overs, and the follow-on target is reduced from 200 to 150.

In all of the arguments which have been made in favour of shortening Test matches, none of them appear to even come close to suggesting that it will make Test cricket more satisfying for people to watch. Really the only compelling case I have seen is that it might make the difference between teams scheduling one Test match or none.

Win, Lose Or Draw. But Mainly Draw.

The most obvious downside of four-day Tests is that it would appear likely to increase the number of drawn matches. Drawn games, particularly when there seems no prospect of any other result, are arguably the worst thing about the format. You can just look at the reaction from journalists and fans to the lifeless pitch in Melbourne.

Nick Hoult’s article in the Telegraph says that roughly 58.25% of the 794 Test matches from 2000 onwards went into the fifth day, and during that period only 23.30% of games ended in a draw. This means that potentially as much as 34.95% of Test matches over the past 18 years, 277 games where a team won on the fifth day, would have instead been a draw if they had instead only had four days.

Of course things are not necessarily this clear-cut. It doesn’t factor in the 32 extra overs that could be bowled in days one to four, or the teams using more aggressive tactics whilst trying to achieve a result. Conversely, teams who are outmatched could perhaps be more likely to try to hold out for a draw than go for a win or collapse when all hope is lost.

There are things you can do to increase the likelihood of a result within four days, but it’s unclear whether the ICC has the will or ability to enforce them. The most obvious solution would be to play every game on a pitch which helps the bowlers, but for this to happen the various cricket boards around the world would have to cede some control of their home grounds and I just can’t see that happening.

One way of inducing results would be to copy the County Championship which already has four-day games, where the points system is used to motivate teams to play aggressively. A team which wins half of their games and loses the other half would get 42 more points than a team which had 14 draws. A team has to score at 3.64 runs per over in their first innings to collect the maximum number of batting bonus points, which may make batsmen more likely to play risky shots and therefore lose their wicket.

But for all of these measures, 24 out of the 56 games in Division 1 last year ended in a draw. There are some reasons why this would happen which wouldn’t relate to Test cricket. The majority of matches are played at the beginning and end of the season, when they are more likely to be interrupted by rain. They’re also more likely to be on used or sub-par pitches with the better ones being reserved for televised games. But the fact that over 42% of games in a competition with four-day games end in a draw is hardly a compelling reason to roll it out for international cricket.

I also have my doubts about whether the use of points would have much effect on international teams. Fans, players and administrators never seem to care about the current ICC Test rankings system unless their team is in first place. There is a new ICC World Test Championship being introduced in 2019, but in its first two years it will be restricted to five-day Tests only. Even if it did allow shorter games, I have my doubts whether anyone would risk losing to force a result within the allotted time. That simply isn’t how any Test team approaches the game.

All of which is to say that it’s a dumb idea. It makes Test matches cheaper, shorter, and almost undeniably worse. If Test cricket is to be made more popular and therefore more profitable, surely the emphasis has to be on making it better to watch. Otherwise, what’s the point? We might as well consign it to the dustbin of history and get used to a future of T10 cricket.

So on that cheery note, we at BOC wish you all a Happy New Year! Enjoy yourselves tonight, and we’ll hopefully all see you again in 2018.

UPDATE – Just to emphasise, and the last few days have not changed things, I am so grateful for all the support this year, and wish everyone all the best for 2018. I apologise for not doing my usual roll call of commenters, but I think you might understand why. I am looking forward and dreading 2018 in equal measures, but what matters most is the great community we have, the vibrant blog, the excellent writers, the new talent (see above) and the ethos carrying forward. All the very best to you and yours, from Honolulu to New Zealand, South Africa to Quebec, Kyoto to Santa Catarina.

Dmitri.

Hiatus month

October is a funny time for those based in England – the season is done, the winter tours are still seemingly distant, the football and rugby seasons are properly underway, and for the assorted scribblers that make up this place, it’s a busy time at work.  This is probably why the ICC pick this time of year to slip out proposed changes to the game, just to ensure maximum annoyance at BOC Towers.

Of course, we’ve been here before, the stillborn Test Championship being a case in point, and when our Glorious Overlords come up with their latest wheeze to create “context” for the game of cricket, there’s a temptation to sigh and reach for the brandy.  Or revolver.

The concept is simple enough, for Test cricket to work towards becoming a competition with a winner at the end of it, the proposal being for the top nine teams to play each other home and away over a two year period culminating in final to determine the winner.  So far so good.  Given the abandonment of the Future Tours Programme as being anything more than a suggestion, some kind of plan for how Test cricket should function should be welcomed.  But the proposal has very little meat on the bones, and the plan for it to start in 2019 puts rather a tight timetable on it being adopted.   There’s little information announced about what the next step would be thus far at least, and we’re already closing fast on 2018.

There’s also the element of announcement fatigue when it comes to ICC edicts.  We’ve been here so many times before.  But let’s be generous and assume it’s going to come off.  A proper competition could actually be rather fun, with all series having something riding on them, whether for the teams hoping to reach a final, or those further down who hope to still be involved next time around.  That in itself does create a problem, for the 10th placed team might find it somewhat difficult to arrange series to get themselves involved for the following competition.  There’s little indicating a pathway for Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland, which doesn’t in itself mean there won’t be one, just that it’s either not been thought about, or not been considered.  Sceptics about the ICC can make up their own minds.

Equally, when the round of matches comes to a conclusion, it will presumably be straight into the next one once the final has been played.  The leading sides would be fairly reluctant to organise a series against a team who might not be involved for the following summer, and the potential for the lower ranking sides to be left dangling has to be real.  In any case, having only to play 6 of the 8 sides could offer the possibility of gaming the system on the one hand, or simply ignoring the lesser lights on the other.  Quite how it could be made compulsory to ensure all nine teams actually get those 6 series in two years hasn’t been explained; Bangladesh only just managed to reach the required number over the last two years, while the fraught bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan is an obvious problem.

Nine is perhaps a specifically chosen number, for it would exclude Zimbabwe, a country who would find it problematic to arrange series against some countries, notably England.  The lack of requirement for everyone to play everyone else might be considered deliberate in that light.

The length of series too is merely confined to be a minimum of two and a maximum of five, suggesting a complete refusal to become involved in changing the tendency to play as little as possible against the smaller nations.  It’s probably not too surprising in itself, for the ICC is not a governing body in the normal sense, more an outlet for the collective musings of the bigger countries.   The points system too is unknown, and that could provide some grounds for decent argument, given how the Test championship table can give rise to some interesting aberrations from time to time.

Still being generous (which gets harder by the day), it could provide grounds for a Test series to matter more to spectators and participants alike.  Yet it’s tough to see this as any kind of radical change, more trying to fit a competition around what more or less exists at present.  In some respects, that might well be as much as is possible to do at this stage; the various vested interests have always managed to kill attempts to bring forward genuine change – unless money is involved of course, for then it’s a different matter.

Of perhaps more interest in terms of a significant change is the proposed ODI league due to start a year after its Test equivalent.  One day series have always been utterly disposable (without looking it up, can you remember the series results even from this summer?), to the point that the acronym JAMODI  – work it out yourself – gained some currency.  The proposal appears to be that the eight series to be played over that time will be over three matches, and unlike with the Test programme, that’s not put forward as a minimum, but an absolute.  If that is the case, then shorter ODI series would appear to be the way forward, which is intriguing in itself were it to happen.

The last major change being mooted is to trial four day Test matches, probably beginning with the Boxing Day Test between South Africa and Zimbabwe later this year.  There’s a rationale there, for a fixture such as that the likelihood of it going five days is questionable, and for Test cricket to have a future, then it does need to pay its way.  The problem with this is what it always has been – it’s messing with a format that works as a cricket one.  The ECB have been in favour for a while, because Tests in England are often finishing in four days.  But there is, and always has been, a fundamental difference between noting that trend (and it needs to be shouted long and loud that elsewhere this is not an issue) and removing the potential for the kind of fifth day we saw only this summer against the West Indies.  Accepting the need for Test cricket to pay its way is hardly an argument in the country that retains the greatest interest in the format.

Experiment by all means, but note that the players appear to be rather opposed.

It’s easy to be cynical about the ICC, but then they do keep giving those cynics reason to be so.  The announcements have been made, and all will wait to see if anything comes of them.  It could be good, but then few would be surprised if it all unravelled to leave nothing but the four day Tests behind.  Cynicism is so often a product of repeatedly being let down.

In other news, BT Sport have announced their commentary line up for the forthcoming Ashes series.  With the usual Sky commentators clearly unavailable, many of the names will come as little surprise, such as Michael Vaughan and Geoffrey Boycott.  Having Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist to represent the home team does at least offer the potential for some kind of insight, while Matt Smith will be the main presenter.  Graeme Swann has also been listed as being present, though there is some debate as to whether he will only be there until Perth before coming home if England are losing.

Test Cricket Resurgent?

Two days, two matches, two results that made the cricketing world sit up and take note.  The extraordinary victory by the West Indies undoubtedly put a smile on the faces of those who love and care for the game, and while the Australians as usual thoroughly enjoyed England’s demise, their schadenfreude lasted barely 12 hours before they fell to defeat against a Bangladesh team who have progressed rapidly and are now stiff opposition to anyone, at least at home.

It all demonstrates a game in rude health, where the minnows can turn over the giants, and those who have been struggling can still show what they can do when given the opportunity.

If only that were true.

Little has changed from a week ago concerning the health of the game generally, the prevalence of T20 leagues shows no sign of abating, and in the midst of the two Tests Mitchell McGlenaghan requested he be released from his New Zealand central contract in order to ply his trade as a freelancer in the T20 game.  In his case, he’s not an essential part of the Black Caps international line ups, and it has been some time since he played, indeed he rated his chances of playing international cricket again as “pretty slim”, but it’s still an instance of a centrally contracted player seeking to strike out on his own. The self-imposed absence of AB De Villiers from the South African Test team put a huge hole in their batting (and the Kolpak desertions just as much) during the most recent series in England, and of course the numbers of West Indians unavailable for their international team is well known.  So much of that is self-inflicted by a dysfunctional board, and in that regard at least there are more recent signs of an improvement in the governance, and the bringing on board of people like Jimmy Adams and Jeff Dujon who might just care more for the game than for the politicking that has afflicted it for so long.  It’s an ironic thing in the wake of the victory that Chris Gayle has indicated he wants to play Tests again.  Whether that would be welcome is less the point than that it would be beneficial for the West Indies to be able to select from their full pool of players.

What hasn’t changed is the dispersal of funding centrally, the question of a meaningful Test programme and ensuring that all teams get to play.  Bangladesh’s win over Australia follows one over England on their last tour, suggesting that at long last they are becoming competitive.  But Tests remain relatively rare for them, they’ve only had one three Test series in the last decade (against Zimbabwe), and there were efforts to downgrade the latest Australian tour to a one day only series without Tests.  Their next series is in South Africa, and that too is just the two Tests.  It’s not uncommon for them to go the best part of a year with no Tests at all.  Perhaps the improvement in their cricket will lead this to change, but it seems a little unlikely.

It’s possible that the two results will not only fail to change the current Test match situation, but even make it worse.  If the response to them is to believe that all is well in the garden, then that ironically doesn’t help at all, for the battle to save Test cricket isn’t even close to being won; it is being lost.  There are many villains in the piece – the easy money that T20 in particular generates taking precedence over everything else.  The ICC is not a governing body in the normal sporting sense, subject to the whims of its members and their vested interests in a way that isn’t healthy.  The general principle that such a body should be in place to look after the interests of the game simply doesn’t apply, and while there are few examples of those who act altruistically for the sake of sport, the ICC remains extraordinarily opaque in its decision making and doesn’t engender trust in any way.

What the two matches did do was offer a timely reminder that in cricket, there is simply nothing remotely as exciting as a match that last five days (yes, five) and builds to a climax.  The number of one sided matches is a real problem, but when the sport gets it right and the matches are close it reaches a level of tension that is extraordinarily rare.  The unfolding of a fine Test match is without compare, and given the context of a proper series, that is close and hard fought, it creates a narrative that sucks in even those who wouldn’t normally pay attention.  The final day of the 2005 Ashes series is always going to be the case in point to that, but of course in that case the play was on free to air television…

Let’s be positive about it.  The wins for the West Indies and Bangladesh reasserted what Test cricket is all about.  If for no other reason than as a reminder that it’s worth something, they were exceptionally welcome.  If it caused those who had been advocating four day Tests to quieten down, that is even more welcome.  There is nothing in that proposal that improves the game in any way; there would be fewer overs, matches would be wrecked by weather to a greater degree than is currently the case, and the prospect of getting teams to actually bowl the overs they are supposed to by increasing the daily workload is quite simply laughable.  The proposal is there for the benefit of boards and money men, not cricket.

One final point.  When it comes to the media, there’s a rule that generally applies.  If a headline ends in a question mark, the answer is no.

England vs. West Indies, 2nd Test Preview (and a bit of rant)

After Dmitri’s short but brutally accurate report of the last Test, I’m not too sure about what more can be said that hasn’t been already. Let’s make this clear, this is a colossal mismatch between one team who are the have’s and another team who are without doubt the have not’s. It’s like signing up to watch Anthony Joshua fight Big Mick from the local pub, people aren’t necessary going for the entertainment more for the morbid spectacle that they know that this will become. It is of course, very easy to blame the West Indies for the mess they are in. The WICB is so corrupt and incompetent it makes the ECB look like the model of sobriety, as not even the ECB has managed to alienate every single decent player in their domestic scene;  as we know the ECB just alienate those that whistle when they get out and aren’t from the right type of family. It is of course, easy to blame the WICB for the calamitous position that the West Indies finds itself in and of course a decent proportion of the blame must be attributed to them; however I think it would be fair to say that outside factors have also played a major part in the West Indie’s sad demise.

If you haven’t read Tim Wigmore’s excellent piece in the Independent then I would strongly suggest that you do – http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/england-cant-ignore-the-role-english-authorities-played-in-killing-test-crickets-competitiveness-a7905706.html. Now the West Indies might be a special case here; after all, they haven’t won a Test away in England since circa 2000 and have won precious few elsewhere away from home (the last major away game they won was against SA in 2007 – thanks D’arthez). However if we delve a little further into the poison pit that is International cricket, then it’s not just the West Indies who are desperately clinging to a sinking raft. If I were to ask you which team have either got better or stayed particularly competitive since 2014, what would your answer be? India, Australia, England – anyone else?? Oh and why do I ask this question, well as we know 2014 was the year that the Big 3 decided to carve up cricket’s finances between themselves to ensure their survival at the expense of every other cricket nation, so I think you might know where I’m going with this. If we place England, India & Australia in Tier 1 (as at least they haven’t got appreciatively worse, though it would be fair to argue that none of these three has made massive strides), then if we look at Tier 2 (those who aren’t yet in perpetual demise) and Tier 3 (those that have fallen off the lifeboat into the choppy ocean), then I think that this gives us a more rounded view of where International Cricket actually is:

Tier 2

  • South Africa – Still competitive, but under threat as their fast bowling unit is getting old and they have lost too many players to Bransgrove’s Kolpakshire amongst other predatory counties
  • New Zealand – Still punching above their weight, but losing McCullum as captain was a massive blow. Still able to surprise the big 3 from time to time, despite big quality gaps in their batting order.
  • Pakistan – Can still put together brilliant performances on their day, but I fear for their batting having lost Younus & Misbah.
  • Bangladesh – Best side they’ve had since they became full members, but no-one wants to play them, which is a real shame.

Tier 3

  • West Indies – See above. Their best batsman is 43 and playing for Lancashire. This team would struggle in Division 2 of the County Championship
  • Sri Lanka – Currently being smashed around by India, they also recently lost to Zimbabwe. The days of watching Sangakkara & Mahela bat as well as Murali bowl, must seem like a lifetime ago now.
  • Zimbabwe – Hardly ever play, still as corrupt as ever.

As you can see this is far from a pretty site, yet the ICC still continues to re-arrange the deckchairs whilst the Titanic is sinking. Who cares about 4 day Test matches or pink balls when in a few years time the only ones playing it will be England, Australia and India as Test Cricket will have died everywhere else. Apologies that this is a little gloomy, but this is the reality and it’s clear that the ICC can’t even manage this decline effectively! Still there’s always the 50 or so T20 leagues that you can watch if you really want to see the same hit and not too many giggles cricket.

Ok slight rant aside, as for the next Test itself, England will naturally go into this as massive favourites. In a slightly strange and I do feel a very harsh move, they have dropped TRJ for Chris Woakes. Now I’m absolutely not advocating that Woakes doesn’t deserve a spot in the line up as he has been extremely consistent over the past year and is highly talented with the bat and the ball; however with a packed winter ahead and facing a weak opposition, surely it would have made more sense to give one of Broad, Anderson or Stokes a blow. Now of course, these players might throw a little tantrum about being dropped when there are easy runs/wickets on offer, but surely we learn nothing by having these bowlers face a paper thin batting line up; however such is the England way, they let the fear of a backlash from certain untouchable individuals within the team cloud their judgement on what is the right decision with the squad for the Ashes in mind.As for the West Indies, they must surely hope that the Headingley pitch is some kind of minefield to bring the two teams closer together, because if it plays like it did at Edgbaston, then I can’t see anything other than another 3 day Test.

Oh and one last thing, as Colombo might say, I had an extremely interesting exchange with a certain individual who was clearly a fan of the ex-England captain, on Twitter last Thursday. Now I’m not going to give this individual any further publicity, as I’ve regularly seen some fairly sane individuals turn into rage’oholics who froth at the mouth the moment anything remotely critical of Cook is written by anyone. I’ll leave these here for your enjoyment:

‘I’m astonished that some whose blogging career is devoted to skewing Cook’s stats is calling a plain stat skewed’ (For the record, it was highly skewed stat based on a certain batsman over circa 10 games, 3 years ago)

‘Go back to trying to prove Alastair Cook’s useless whilst he sleeps on a big pile of runs’

    ‘Imaging devoting an entire blog to hating Alastair Cook.’

    ‘I’m planning a big BOC subtweet when Cook reaches his double ton’ (he didn’t, I guess he didn’t find any to back up his position)

      So now we’ve progressed from being a bunch of KP fanboys to being accused of spewing hateful bile about Alastair Cook, I wonder what will be thrown against us next. It’s BOC’s fault that Test Cricket is dying? It’s our fault that global warming is ruining our world? It’s our fault that Brexit happened? The possibilities are just endless. Perhaps if the media did their job and took an objective view of Cook i.e. putting his achievements into some sort of perspective and instead stopped writing meaningless hagiographies, then we wouldn’t have to be the lone voice of sanity in a world where this is rarely so.

      So as I read it, those of us that have the temerity to question Cook’s place amongst the International elite are now classed as Cook haters, with nothing else to do but spew angry bile about him! Does this also apply when I question or criticize other England cricketers? I have written critical stuff about Root, Moeen, Broad, Anderson & Woakes amongst others in the past, but I don’t generally get people screaming at me on Twitter when I do. Of course, there are those that point out that we write about Cook more than others and yes it’s true, because people are interested in reading about him (much like a certain individual a few years ago), after all if I spent most of my time writing about Chris Woakes, it’d be a pretty dull blog (I don’t care if I upset Chris Woakes as he has already blocked me on Twitter for some unknown reason). The sad thing is that the schism that Dmitri wrote about in early 2016 is still very much prevalent in 2017, but of course we are the ones with an ‘agenda’. For the record, I posted this on Alastair Cook a while back and nothing has happened to change my personal opinion since then – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/01/29/guest-post-dont-blame-it-on-the-sunshine-blame-it-on-the-ecb/. I’m not sure it screams incandescent hatred, but I’ll leave you to decide on this….

      Anyway, I’m bored about writing and going over the same things about Alastair Cook, so I’m simply going to refer ‘people’ back to the above article when the next brain dead moron suggests that our whole editorial policy is based around our hatred of Cook.

      And with that nonsense out of the way, feel free to comment on the game below:

      Fixing Cricket – Slow Over Rates

      We all love cricket here at Being Outside Cricket. Writers and readers, we’re united by our love for the sport. But just because we love something, it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t change some things if we could. Modern cricket is filled with anachronisms, compromises, and petty self-interest which often leaves fans feeling annoyed and shortchanged. The most frustrating thing is that many of these issues can easily be addressed, it just requires The Powers That Be to spend a tiny amount of time and money on fixing them.

      Recently I’ve noticed quite a few overs lost in Tests, or innings overrunning in ODIs. In the two matches so far of the Basil D’Oliveira series between England and South Africa there have been 11 missing overs. This is despite the extra half hour teams have, lowering the required over rate from 15 to roughly 13.8 per hour. Even so, there was no punishment for either team because the game ended within five days and there are generous allowances for the time taken with reviews, wickets, and even boundaries. In the Champions Trophy there were three cases of punishment for slow over rates, even with the ICC’s lax enforcement of the rules.

      Does It Matter?

      It could be said that slow over rates rarely have an impact on the result. England’s last two Test matches ended with over a day left, even with the lost overs. The Champions Trophy games with slow over rates all had results. Fundamentally, little would have changed if these games finished on time. It’s not about the integrity of the game, it’s about the fans.

      Cricket supporters get shafted on an unfortunately regular basis, particularly if they go to see Test matches. They buy overpriced tickets for what usually aren’t great seats, where they can buy overpriced food, washing it down with overpriced beer. On top of all that, due to cricket’s almost unique inability to play in the rain, they often see a lot less than a full game or day’s play without any kind of refund. A quick look at the ECB’s refund policy shows that spectators only get a full refund if 15 overs or less are bowled in a day, and half is refunded is between 15 and 30 overs are played in a day. There aren’t many places where, if you buy something and only get half of what you paid for, you don’t get a full refund. If you pay for a day’s play and only see 45 overs, you get nothing. By almost any measure, that’s poor value.

      So it is with slow over rates. If someone pays to see 90 innings and they only see 85, they’re being cheated out of what they are owed. If they’re still queueing for their incredibly expensive food and drink while the second innings starts because the ODI mid-innings interval was cut to 30 minutes, they’re missing out on what they paid for. This has a real long-term impact, spectators who feel ill-treated will go to cricket games less often or stop completely.

      Arguably the more important issue is the enjoyment of the game. It is the perception of people who aren’t cricket fans that it is a slow and boring sport where almost nothing happens. When a fielding team are bowling at 12-13 overs per hour, I feel quite a bit of sympathy with that viewpoint.

      My Solution

      Clearly the current system isn’t working. The umpires have a massive amount of latitude when it comes to excusing slow over rates, and clearly do everything in their power to avoid banning captains. Particularly, if you were being cynical, captains from the ‘Big 3’ nations who largely control world cricket. Even so, 4 captains have received bans in the past year (Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Masrafe Mortaza and Upal Tharanga), and it still hasn’t in any way acted as a deterrent.

      What I believe cricket needs is a clear, strict, unambiguous rule with a punishment which is significant enough to discourage fielding teams from slowing down but also not disproportionate. My suggestion is this: Sessions always finish at their scheduled time (with some leniency for truly unavoidable delays), and the batting team receive 6 penalty runs for every ball lost.

      Take for example England’s game against New Zealand in the recent Champions Trophy. England were batting in the first inning and scored a good total of 310 in their 50 overs, but it overran by 28 minutes (or to put it another way, by 7 overs). After some ‘careful consideration’ by the match umpires, this was reduced to only being 8 minutes (2 overs) slow and the New Zealand players received fines but no suspension. I’m not aware of any significant delays in the game which took 20 minutes out of the game, but clearly the officials decided otherwise. If the ICC followed my suggestion, then England would have amassed a total of over 500 runs and the New Zealand players wouldn’t have been fined or at risk of suspension. As for people watching in the stands or at home, they would have had a full hour to enjoy their lunch rather than just 32 minutes.

      Which isn’t to say that this would be without problems. I’ve posted my suggestion here in the comments a few times and have had some flaws highlighted. D’Arthez pointed out that ball boys (and possibly the crowd) might delay throwing the ball back to the fielders when the away team is bowling. Certainly there’s also a considerable incentive for batsmen to waste as much time as possible, acting like Stuart Broad trying to bat for a draw. Pulling out of their batting stance, tying their laces, redoing their pads and gloves, feigning cramps, moving the sightscreens, all the old pro’s tricks. Of course this could be prevented by firm umpiring, but if we had that then there wouldn’t be any reason to change from the current rules. But despite this, and other wrinkles that would need ironing out, I think it’s an improvement on the current system.

      So that’s my idea. If you have any comments on this, your own solutions, or just general comments on over rates please leave them below.

      Another ICC Meeting – Guest Post by Simon H

      We asked our resident commenter in chief, and ICC scrutineer, to update us on the latest machinations at the ICC. And he agreed. Take it away Simon.

      Another Bloody ICC Meeting

      Another ICC meeting? Yawn…. Hang on, folks! Shit just got real – as they say in the Long Room. Some important decisions have just been made, not that you’d know it from the UK media. Cricinfo and Tim Wigmore have been excellent, but the rest? The BBC managed to cover both major decisions, the DT and the DM covered the elevation of Ireland and Afghanistan but not much else, the Guardian…. well, Selvey may have gone but his spirit of ignoring governance lives on.

      Some of us have been commenting away BTL as the decisions have unfolded – but for anyone who’s missed it all, here are the main points pulled together:

      1.Revenue-sharing. I’m old-fashioned enough to start with the money. The new revenue-model is:

      http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/image/1105340.html?object=297120;dir=next

      In percentage terms: India 22.8%; England 7.8%; Australia, Pakistan, SL, SA, Bangladesh, NZ and WI 7.2% each; Zimbabwe 5.3%; the 90-odd Associates 13.5%.

      Why are teams getting these amounts? There’s no formula based on need, contribution or anything else. Countries have grabbed what they can. Why does small, rich NZ get the same as large, poor Bangladesh? Don’t ask me. Why does medium-sized, rich England get more than large, poor Pakistan? Er….

      Is it a good and fair resolution? Well, it’s better than the 2014 deal that was the best that anyone could hope for (TM Selvey). A punch in the face for everyone outside the Big Three would be a better deal than 2014. Is it better than the pre-2014 arrangement? Possibly – I can see different sides to that debate. Is it as good as what they agreed just a few months ago? Well, another 112 USD have been thrown at India that was conjured up out of somewhere (the Associate budget, mainly).

      Is it the basis for a long-term solution? Countries have grabbed what they can based on their power at this moment. When the power balance shifts, expect us to be here again with this.

      1. Test status for Ireland and Afghanistan. This has received most MSM coverage so I’ll say least about it here. Read Tim Wigmore on Ireland and Afghanistan’s promotion, if you haven’t already:

      https://twitter.com/timwig/status/878307065378201603

      Two points about it though – i) the Test challenge proposed for 2018 has been scrapped so Ireland’s first Test is now likely to be not against England at Lord’s but whatever they arrange (which means probably they’ll play Afghanistan… and again and again) ii) although Ireland and Afghanistan can now play Tests, for funding purposes they are still regarded as Associates so they will receive less than half the funding of Zimbabwe and the funding increase they will receive eats into the Associate funding for everyone else. The big losers from this meeting are the other Associates. A good definition of the ICC could be “a body set up to screw cricket in the Netherlands” because that’s all they ever seem to do.

      1. Test and ODI Championships. After much talk, one has finally been agreed…. to start after 2019:

      http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/1105371.html

      The Test Championship involves each nation playing series (minimum of two Tests) against six teams over two years with points awarded and the top two playing a Final (with Lord’s, Eden Gardens and the SCG mentioned as possible venues …. because nobody else has an iconic venue). It seems an absolute nonsense to me that we can have a league where some teams don’t play each other.

      The proposed schedule for 2019-23 gives some idea where things are heading. To take just England, England will not be playing Bangladesh at home at all in this period and won’t play NZ until 2023. India look like they’ll be keeping five-Test series in England. Another back-to-back Ashes looks dead. SA look as if they will be further downgraded with their next winter against England shared with India and their next summer in England six years off and shared with NZ.

      Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan have no regular fixtures and no means of promotion. Why would, say, WI arrange matches against Afghanistan when they won’t make much money and victories for Afghanistan would just underline the stupidity of WI having all these agreed fixtures and Afghanistan having a few crumbs.

      1. The ICC Constitution. Perhaps the most under-analysed part of the changes is the new constitution and what it means for future ICC decision-making:

      http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/1105387.html

      As I understand it, that means it will need two-thirds of 17 to carry significant future changes. This would appear to make it harder for a small group of nations to form a dominant bloc on the ICC.

      Another change is the creation of a deputy chairman who will preside when Manohar is absent – and the good news is this post hasn’t gone to you-know-who but to Khawaja from Singapore.

      Sundries (as our Australian friends might say).

      Various other changes have been agreed (have a drink every time a UK MSM journo shows no awareness of these):

      • a) A World XI will tour Pakistan for three T20s later in the year as part of re-introducing international cricket to the country.
      • b) Teams will not have DRS topped up after 80 overs (because no-one will be able to bat that long anymore?) but will not lose a review for ‘Umpire’s Call’.
      • c) The bat-size restrictions and red cards for misconduct proposed by the MCC were adopted.
      • d) A batsman won’t be run out if their bat bounces up after having been grounded.
      • e) USACA were booted out. USACA gave their usual response that everyone else is wrong. This is worth keeping an eye on as there are some in the ICC desperate to get the T20 WC in the USA before the end of the next decade.
      • f) Radical measures were introduced to improve over rates. Oh sorry, no they weren’t!
      • g) What else wasn’t discussed? Well, there’s nothing about the Olympics, nor about the future of the CT, nor about the future structure of tournaments (in the name of God, won’t someone do something about this disaster of a World Cup that’s getting closer and closer….).