Nightmare In Dubai – Guest Post by SimonH

We would all have seen the sudden news from the ICC today about the sudden resignation for “personal reasons” of Shashank Manohar. As if he was reading my mind, our regular scrutineer of all things ICC has put pen to paper, or keyboard to screen, to give his quick take on what has happened today. So, take it away Simon H….

Clarke Book

“The Presidential limousine is turning into Elm Street…. President Manohar is waving…. There seems to be some sort of disturbance in the motorcade…. “

A bright new leader, not without his flaws certainly but committed to taking on entrenched interests and elites with vast power and money, is removed from office before completing his term? His proposed reforms look certain to die along with him? His shady deputy leader is positioned to take over? It may not quite be Dealey Plaza, and nobody yet has been identified firing the fatal shot from the grassy knoll, but it looks very much like March 15th 2017 has seen an undeclared coup (bloodless, fortunately) in global cricket governance.

The first thing to say is that this seems to have come out of nowhere. There had been no hints, no nods-and-winks, that this was imminent. The global cricket press corps, those Woodward and Bernsteins of investigative “proper” journalism, seem to have been completely blindsided. But then it isn’t so difficult to be blindsided if you’re looking in the opposite direction…..

Shashank Manohar, eight months into his two year term as ICC chairman, has emailed CEO Dave Richardson that he is standing down for undisclosed “personal reasons”. Indian media sources are reporting that it was a pre-emptive move in anticipation of losing the crucial vote on ICC reforms next month. Those proposals involved a new revenue-sharing deal that would cut India’s 22% of ICC revenue, the creation of a Test championship that would slash the number of games teams played, the creation of two divisions of 9 and 3 teams with no promotion/relegation, qualification for all teams for ICC tournaments and various other measures. The BCCI needed four FMs to block the moves and have reportedly secured the support of SL, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Those boards are apparently against more money for themselves. Some indication of the economics are here: http://www.hindustantimes.com/cricket/bcci-could-lose-180-190-million-in-new-icc-revenue-model-still-biggest-earner/story-YhtzoiMgonO7OJnriqJ7ZL.html

It appears that Zimbabwe have voted themselves out of $5m and the figures for SL and Bangladesh would be several times more that. This, obviously, is not

something you see every day. They are, more understandably, against permanent demotion to D2 (in Zimbabwe’s case) and playing a lot less Test cricket (in SL’s case).

The ICC will appoint an interim chairman until new elections can be held for a permanent replacement. Candidates need to be past or present ICC directors and to be nominated by at least two FM directors. The process seems most likely to carry on into the summer although it could technically be resolved next month. Unsurprisingly, the speculation from UK media sources is that Giles Clarke, known to be ambitious for the job but unable even to secure two nominations last time, is positioning himself for the job. The normally media-shy Clarke gave a rare interview recently: http://www.standard.co.uk/business/giles-clarke-the-cricket-nut-who-swapped-retail-for-oil-on-his-latest-innings-at-amerisur-a3463606.html

Clarke’s ambitions had been thwarted previously by non-Big Three FMs still furious over the 2014 Power Grab. Clarke has recently become a great supporter of returning international cricket to Pakistan: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/06/pakistan-host-international-cricket-t20-series-world-xi-icc

Relentless churls might point out that Pakistan is not safe so Clarke set up his very own Warren Commission to come up with the result that had already been determined: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/1086672.html

Therefore, we find ourselves today with what was yesterday’s distant possibility having become today’s imminent probability. The LBJ of cricket governance – with all the original’s probity, charm and intestinal fortitude for taking on those with money and power – is closing in on that crown he so coverts. If there’s one thing we should learn about the running of cricket, it’s never to say “it can’t get much worse”.

Eoin, T20, ECB, ICC, Tired….

As Chris is off around the other side of the world, and my job has gone absolutely hyper, the time to consider and even react to games, news, events is so totally limited. Coming home has been like wandering into a gently soothing cool shower, draining away the aches and pains, but leaving you still tired and needing rest. Such feelings don’t correlate with writing passionate blog materials. Twitter is easier, but also lazier.

Carrying out the duties of a blog like this means a lot of spare time is taken in reading and listening to what is going on. Today is a good example. I bought the Cricket Paper this morning. The only time I’ve even thought about reading it was when Tregaskis asked me if he could see a copy of the front page. I get home and the first time I actually catch up with the Surrey and Middlesex scores is on the bus to my house. I’ve listened to George’s podcast while having one eye on the unbelievable opportunity I have in 9 days time to fulfill one of my dreams.

I sit and read the stuff on Eoin Morgan. My job entails me going around the world, infrequently, and seeing some extraordinary places – I’ve been to Almaty in Kazakhstan, a brilliant experience, and down a coal mine in Illinois. I’ve been to Istanbul a number of times, and even the amazing city of Moscow. I’ve been nervous about many of them. But I went, because I believe I can look after myself, have a huge sense of danger, and feel as though my wits are about me. I don’t guarantee safety, but then again life is too short to worry about everything. I’m sure something will happen some day, but it is as likely to be in Paris as it is in Istanbul, for example.

But I have turned down visits that don’t suit my personal circumstances, or where being a chunky could get me into trouble (i.e. being able to run decent distances). Or, importantly, where they make me nervous. You see, I may have to make the choice of going to Bangladesh soon, and I’m not that keen, but would probably, on balance go. But I am not a high profile international cricket team. I have every sympathy for Eoin Morgan, who has damn good reasons for not going. His own. You don’t walk a mile in his shoes, so don’t you dare judge him for making that decision. It is all perfectly well people saying “he’s the leader, he should show some courage”. Bollocks. There’s too much of this judgmental crap these days, and I’ve had enough of it. I’m sure many of you have too.

Those who like that sort of thing are pointing out Eoin Morgan’s “lack of form”. The irony of that smacks me in the face. Two years ago lack of form was nothing when the other England captain was playing test cricket, and his lack of form at ODI level took more than a few months bad trot to get him out of the team. Morgan will know how much he lost if he is not selected for India. If he isn’t selected in the squad, then I know that this is personal. Morgan is a very good white ball captain. Jos Buttler will not surprise us that much in three games to persuade us that Morgan still isn’t the best white ball captain.

Then there is the T20 stuff. Look, sorry people, but I really haven’t been following it as much as I know you might like me to. Part of me is past caring. The ECB know what they want. They want an 8 team tournament, in prime summer, with international superstars, and it live and exclusive on Sky TV. Yes, you read the last bit. If it ain’t them, it will be BT Sport. That the counties want little to do with it, is not a surprise, but they’ll be told “no nice payouts to keep you going if there isn’t what we want” and we’ll melt down into civil war over cucumber sandwiches. Unlike Australia, on which we are basing our T20 envy, the game has lost its grip on the social fabric of the country because it banned itself from free TV. Australia still reveres it cricket and there is still an audience for it. It also, as I read from someone today, the perfect set up with large urban centres limited in number. What would we do?  Graves seems to have all the negotiating skills of a Sandstone cliff, and Tom Harrison couldn’t persuade me to put the heat on in winter, so what chance do we have? I don’t think the other side of the debate has been all that crash hot either. Why do we need to save the counties? If they didn’t “need” saving we wouldn’t have to help them out. The game is not viable even in the current “massively successful” T20 Blast era. You know my view – players are getting paid above their market value, and unless there’s some damn realism in this sphere, we are going to be in real trouble ad infinitum. There is not a single current non-international cricketer who should be on more than £2k a week in county cricket. There used to be a few at Surrey. I’ll bet they weren’t the only ones.

And as for the ICC. May god have mercy on the souls of the cricket boards of this world. We truly are in the hands of men with little imagination, other than how to try to make money. I’m done with it. What is there left for us to say? What more could Death of a Gentleman do to say, sort this mess out? I’m not sure two divisions would have saved test cricket, nor do I believe it is in as dire a state as some say it is. It most certainly is in certain countries, but that isn’t new. We have the wonderful success story of Pakistan, the world #1 that never plays at home. England are up and down. Australia too. India look to be getting some consistency. Sri Lanka can pull magic out of a hat. South Africa may still have it. The ICC don’t give a shit. Not really. The BCCI run the game and we all know it. It may have sounded like they were moving towards consensus, but that was always transient in my eyes.

So tiredness and weariness, despair and demoralised, we move on to the end of a season where the premier long-form competition is coming down to a thrilling conclusion with the top two meeting in the last fixture and our host broadcaster, with five or six sports channels to fill in midweek, cannot be arsed to cover it. And that’s the broadcaster who #39 put their head chap at #6 in his power list. He should be #1 because if the exclusive broadcaster can’t be bothered to do this and that company is very likely to keep all cricket in the future, then this sport has the wrong priorities. But we knew that.

UPDATE – Paul Newman has written a truly appalling piece on Morgan’s decision. I’m not linking it. If you want to read it, then go ahead. But there is no room in his ivory tower for a shade of grey. The sort of article that plays the man, and not the issue. An issue so serious that the ECB Head of Security went out there for a week and still the ECB said there would be nothing held against anyone who did not travel. I ribbed an Aussie about their non-tour last year, I know. But there’s been some naughtiness since (I’ve learned a hell of a lot about Bangladesh since then) and it’s a judgment call. No more no less. But there isn’t empathy in Newman. Certainly not in his writing. I don’t know if I could be more angry with him.

Cash, Money, Lucre, Power, Influence…

I think Jarrod Kimber’s Twitter feed spoke volumes last night….

You can read the rest. Jarrod lets the BCCI and Anurag Thakur have it with both barrels.

Here at Being Outside Cricket, well especially me, I bow to Simon H when it comes to matters of ICC and world administration. It’s tough to keep up with the machinations of our press and ECB goings on without keeping an eye on what is happening in the international game. But what we all know is that India control the game – and Indian fans save your admonishment because this is realpolitik not some cosy fancy “good for the game” nonsense that I’m fed by people who want more of my cash to be able to watch the sport we all love. For that’s what this is all about. As Gideon Haigh says, what are fans other than something to be monetised? Sport has always been about money and entrenching power. The “product” on the field is a definite second.

But hey, you say, if the product is rubbish then no-one will watch? Well, yes, to a degree. I happen to think that “modern football” of the last 20 or so years, while technically much better, is far less exciting. It’s why I don’t go to my team any more – I was bored watching defensive, fearful football, with losing more feared than winning enjoyed – and yet the Premier League is doing better (supposedly) than ever in the money stakes. India have the IPL – I really couldn’t tell you who won it, was it Bangalore? – and it rakes in a fortune. The Indian national team is a money printing machine, and while they have the cash they do not have one vote on the table. They have THE vote.

We can sit here and moan all we like. This is the real world. We have ONE jewel in the crown – our team plays a massively lucrative series against Australia – but non-India years in the accounts are not good. We’ll see how down they are when we get the next season’s accounts, but revenue was well down in 2015 from 2014, and that was from India to Australia, and they are bound to be a lot worse compared to 2015. Money men, and it’s usually men, who run cricket, don’t tend to do altruism, and in many cases don’t take a long-term view.

One thing with the Giles Clarke interview in The Cricketer is that where there is lots of plaudits on himself for securing a lucrative TV contract without which the professional game in this country could not have survived – his words – he has seen a growth in international player’s wages in the UK which has not been matched by a growth in the game itself. You only have to look at clubs in my area merging or folding (our team did because we had no younger players, and the constant strife the counties put themselves in while paying players money they can’t afford. It’s come to the point where the game in England depends on whether a TV company is going to pony up the money to pay for it. At some point the sports rights market is going to be saturated and people won’t pay any more. Take the fact the US Open tennis has been dropped by Sky, for the cost, I read, of ONE Premier League fixture. Cricket better not be still standing when the music stops and the chairs are all taken.

It’s OK for us diehards to say “that Pakistan series was great and we should have more of them” because Sky don’t want that stiff. They’d have Australia and India alternating if they had their way. They’d have an IPL in England if they had their way. And that’s the issue for us, and increasingly on a global scale. TV calls the tune, and more importantly, Indian TV money (not influence, as the way they are advised to broadcast shows the power the BCCI holds) does, and that’s a lot of money.

There were a lot of rumblings when Shashank Manohar swept on the scene, stopped Giles becoming the head of the ICC, made some very nice international noises which were in contrast to Srinavasan, that all wasn’t all it seemed. A number of the constituent parts of the BCCI weren’t so keen on hearing about THEIR revenue being nicely shared around the world for the “good of the game”. I could just imagine out constituent Premier League clubs doing just the same – a bit like how the top boys react when the Champions League is being reformed, The top boys want the riches for themselves. The assured cash flow. To hell with fairness and competition.

Now, it appears, at the ICC council that the Indian board aren’t going to be as fulsome in their altruism as we first thought. Part of me says why the hell should we. If we were in their shoes, we wouldn’t be. If any part of this impinged on counties, we’d have no chance of changing the rules. So don’t be slagging India off for doing what we would do.

Two division test cricket would only have worked if we truly believe England, India or Australia would have been allowed to be relegated. If you believe that, then you should check the bottom of the garden for fairies. Cricket is bankrolled by India, so what they say will pretty much go. The IPL has pretty much destroyed, if it needed much help, test cricket in the West Indies as it always clashes with their season. The best West Indian players get to “choose” whether to earn a reasonably small sums in an uncompetitive team on dreary wickets in the Caribbean, or pocket a small fortune in playing in a competitive if ultimately relatively meaningless “league” in India. That’s tough. Don’t spend too long thinking about it.

The game is run for naked self-interest. We got angry, rightfully so, and we should never not get angry, at this. Of course we do. We’re bloody diehards. But we aren’t who boards care about. We’re the ones taken for granted that we’ll still be there when it all falls apart. We’ll still cough up our Sky Subs, our match tickets, even our memberships just to watch the game.

I hope Simon will write a piece on the meeting – if not, I’m sure he’ll comment – but the ICC haven’t surprised me in the slightest, and I’ll bet deep down they’ve not surprised Jarrod, Sam, Gideon, and all those others out there who railed against the machine. What they have done is make things a little less comfortable, but when there’s money to be made, and cash and power to be invested in themselves, personally, now, I’m afraid mere diehards can go do one…..

Just listened to the Ugra clip on Cricinfo headlined “BCCI standing with the “small guys”. Really? REALLY? Because they are voting against a two-tier system when they themselves virtually operate one themselves (no tests against Bangladesh at home until the FIRST one in Spring next year). I’m sorry, you’ll have to come up with a better rationale than that.

The Phantom Menace

I thought I’d copy out an article I’ve just read. Keeper99 linked me to another article from the Hyderabad (Central Zone I believe) news press and had me off looking to see other views. I came across this article which is a darn sight more sobering than some of the cries of relief we are hearing. It’s from the Indian Express (emboldened parts are my emphasis):

A rock, a hard place

BCCI chief has an unenviable job at a difficult time. He must step up to it.

– See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/bcci-shashank-manohar-a-rock-a-hard-place/#sthash.fnOv0895.dpuf

It will be understandable if the Indian cricket board president, Shashank Manohar, feels that, right now, he is being loved and viewed with suspicion, both at the same time. The Anglo-Saxon part of the cricketing world is lauding him for the clean-up job he has promised at the International Cricket Council. But the Indians in power in cricket administration might not be quite cosying up to him. Needless to say, he has an unenviable task on his hands. He has spoken about defanging the bully that is Indian cricket that, along with England and Australia, had devised a plan last year to retain the lion’s share of the revenue. If he manages to bring in a more equitable sharing system, then the BCCI, which, as part of the Big Three, was expected to rake in around $568 million annually, will have to settle for a double-digit figure.

(Comment – this last part may be over-dramatic, but do not underestimate it. Domestic sports bodies the world over have little interest in the wide world outside. We have the Premier League as Exhibit A.)

Even if the new revenue is somehow deemed palatable by the old guard back home, they might stir up a rebellion of sorts if Manohar starts to clean up Indian cricket as per the recommendations of the Justice Lodha Committee. The suggestions of the Supreme Court-appointed committee are aimed at a comprehensive clean-up. Several important figures would have to quit cricket administration as they would not only be debarred by the age clause of 70 years but would be automatically disqualified by the limits imposed on tenure — cumulatively nine years and no successive terms allowed. Politicians and administrators don’t usually give up power easily.

If the Big Three is dismantled, and democracy replaces hegemony, the BCCI stands to lose money, which in turn would affect the generous cash flow to various local associations across the country. A recommendation as simple and rational as auditing and accounting for the money given to associations is likely to hit speed-breakers. In other words, the recommendations envisage a complete shake-up of the system — be it changing the way the associations and the BCCI are currently registered to the way the money is shared between them — and such overhauling is likely to alienate the BCCI chief from his colleagues in cricket administration. The job at hand isn’t going to be easy, considering the big names and powerful people involved. With the SC breathing down his neck, it will be interesting to see how Manohar responds.

A New Hope, maybe, but there is a lot to worry about still. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Rich businessmen didn’t become rich by giving away money. Powerful people don’t generally give up power easily. This is not a knock on India, but if they have the attitude of our own Giles Clarke, they’ll put the views of their board above those of the world game. That’s where we are. Especially when you are talking about immense amounts of money.

Please read TLG’s excellent “A New Hope” as a full view on this situation. I believe the above paints a more alarming picture.

UPDATE – Would also recommend this piece from the same organ on the tussles in India at the moment as the Supreme Court get involved in the governance at BCCI. http://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket/supreme-court-gets-stern-with-bcci-asks-it-to-implement-lodha-panel-recommendations/

A New Hope

One of the elements of the notorious description used by the ECB (and PCA) which provided the name of this site was the implied attitude towards those who at amateur level played the game, or who watched, bought tickets or paid television subcriptions.  It was a perfect demonstration of their opinion of the plebians who merely provided all the revenue to allow those either within cricket administration, professional players or indeed journalists or broadcasters to earn a living.  It remains one of the most despicable statements ever used by a sporting body towards those upon whom a game relies, and that statement is still carried on the ECB website, and no apology or even acknowledgement of it has ever been made.

But on its own, in isolation, it could perhaps be seen as the botched missive of an idiocracy which most people could brush off and laugh at.  Except the trouble was that this attitude was pervasive, and not just within the ECB, it went through every level of the international game.  Indeed, the attitude of the ECB was carried forward into the highest echelons of the international game.  The film Death of a Gentleman outlined the perspective that supporters were merely there to be monetised in detail, and the ECB were not just complicit, they led the way alongside India and Australia in attempting to grab as much filthy lucre as possible.

The power grab by the Big Three (one suspects that rather than hear the dripping contempt of that phrase, some within will view it as a badge of honour) was largely about increasing power and increasing the revenues to those boards, entirely at the expense of everyone else.  The remaining Test nations would be worse off, the Associate nations might as well give up, and for a nation like Ireland, the possibility of Test cricket had receded into the distance and has little appeal to it even if they were to achieve it.

Dmitri yesterday wrote a piece about the anniversary of the removal of Kevin Pietersen as an international player.  Even back then, people were told to “move on” and naturally enough, those who always seem to back the ECB no matter what were quick to repeat it.  But as so often, they miss the point.  Pietersen is one tiny part of a wider jigsaw, and in the grand scheme of things, one of the least important.  But what that episode did demonstrate above all was the utter contempt for those who are Outside Cricket not just by word, but by deed.  That attitude, irrespective of whether one is a fan of Pietersen the player or not is precisely the reason the ECB, and Giles Clarke in particular, had no compunctions whatsoever in behaving the way they did, and the reason it was so important is that it highlighted the naked greed and lack of any interest in the consequences so demonstrative of that arrogance.  It was not just that they abrogated their duty of care for the game, they showed they didn’t care about the game at all, merely their own narrow self-interests.  The expression of lofty superiority by authority was echoed in similar ways across the globe, and while Pietersen had his own problems and was to at least some extent the architect of his own downfall, the lack of interest in the game itself reached the point where players were not turning out for their national teams, preferring instead to play the T20 leagues, and the captain of South Africa – South Africa no less – was openly debating giving up Test cricket. Different circumstances, entirely different situations, yet it was possible to draw a direct line between all of them on the basis of the lack of interest the governing bodies had for the integrity of the game.

The Big Three carve up had the consequence of drawing the vast majority of the game’s revenues to themselves, impoverishing the remainder of the Test playing nations and killing any prospect of the game expanding beyond its rather narrow boundaries.  Cricket became the first sport in history to deliberately reduce its footprint on the planet.  It went further, with Clarke’s flat rejection of the idea of T20 cricket being an Olympic Sport, mostly on the grounds that it wouldn’t make his board any money, whatever he said, while slashing the development funds to non-Test playing nations and turning even the Test playing nations outside India, Australia and England into nothing other than vassals.  The three countries took complete control of the ICC, ensuring that all ICC events were to be held solely in their own territories over the following ten years (though no one expected that to change at the conclusion of the agreed period) and challenging all the others to simply lump it or face being excluded from the kinds of tours that would allow them to survive as cricketing entities.

Some journalists objected, and objected vociferously.  In Australia Gideon Haigh was scathing as only he can be, in England Scyld Berry broke ranks from his colleagues to condemn it outright, while Wisden in the form of Lawrence Booth sounded the alarm for cricket as a game.  Since then Nick Hoult at the Telegraph has frequently written about the machinations both within the ECB and beyond.  Cricinfo too raised the matter, with Jarrod Kimber impressively furious and of course along with Sam Collins making Death of a Gentleman, while Tim Wigmore has repeatedly castigated the powers that be for their duplicity and selfishness concerning the wider world game.

From others.  Silence.  From the Guardian, nothing – really nothing.  At the time of writing, there is still nothing on the ICC meeting today.  From Mike Selvey, their chief cricket correspondent, absolutely nothing at any point on the whole topic.  This is no surprise, for Selvey is known to be close to Giles Clarke to the extent that a paper that has prided itself on investigating injustice has appeared to be an echo chamber – indeed a direct hotline – for the views of the ECB.  Selvey’s first response on TMS to the potential for major change in favour of the richest boards was to profess ignorance of the whole matter and regard it as unimportant and when Death of a Gentleman came out he refused to watch it.  As far as anyone knows he still hasn’t.  It is shameful that newspaper has ignored the matter, it is despicable that they have made no effort whatever to cover it, preferring instead to imply approval of Giles Clarke’s claim that no-one is interested in administration, apparently even when it fundamentally changes the nature of the game.  Colleagues such as David Conn may have views on that. For cricket lovers who have adored the Guardian’s previously excellent coverage, it is a dereliction of duty that they will find very hard to ever forgive.  That it requires blogs like this one to point this out, and to try, in our own small way, to back up the work of those excellent journalists in asking questions and making criticisms is unacceptable.

Unless there is some kind of statement to the contrary, the assumption must be this is deliberate policy, for it is rather hard to believe a journalist of the quality of Ali Martin is purposely ignoring the whole subject.

Today the ICC held a meeting which largely reversed the changes made a year ago, the status quo ante prevailing.  This can be viewed as progress of a sort, though Tim Wigmore wrote an excellent piece on Cricinfo pointing out the limitations of what has happened.  It is well worth reading:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/969029.html

Wigmore is completely correct, and points to Lord Woolf’s scathing assessment of the ICC at the time, to which we now more or less return.  And yet even this does provide some grounds for hope, and perhaps practicality dictates that in one board meeting the only possible immediate means of rolling back the changes was to re-instate the previous constitution.  The ICC under the jackboot of India, Australia and England would have in short order killed at the very least Test cricket as we knew it.  The West Indies, already in crisis through their own administrative ineptitude have reached the point where they are uncompetitive against almost anyone, their best players preferring instead to play the shortest form of the game as hired hands – and who can blame them?  The battering received in Australia was greeted with sadness in some quarters, and with outrage amongst those who have delved rather more deeply into the wider problems.  It was only going to get worse, the alarm bells were well and truly ringing when AB De Villiers made his statement about giving up Tests.  The clear revenue increase to the majority that applies now at least buys a little time.

The ICC statement from today is worth reading in full:

http://www.icc-cricket.com/news/2016/media-releases/92105/outcomes-from-icc-board-and-committee-meetings

It is a curious thing when an ICC statement provides some degree of cheer for the cricket fan.  The removal of N. Srinivasan back in November when the BCCI withdrew support and the subsequent installation of Shashank Manohar as ICC Chairman provided the first glimpse of the possibility that the theft of the world game by an avaricious few might just come under scrutiny by those with the power to change it.  The other Test playing nations, suddenly aware of their position as turkeys who had voted – or been forced to vote – for Christmas, had raised objections to their diminished status, but the constitution gave them virtually no prospect of changing anything.  It required the BCCI in particular to take the lead.  Manohar was swift to demonstrate things could change, saying upon his appointment:

“I don’t agree with the revenue-sharing formula, because it’s nice to say that India (BCCI) will get 22 per cent of the total revenue of the ICC, but you cannot make the poor poorer and the rich richer, only because you have the clout.  Secondly there is another angle to it which nobody has thought of. India generates money because the other countries come and play in India. If you do not have a fierce competition, the broadcasters are not going to pay you and the sponsors are not going to sponsor your events.”

He went on:

“I don’t agree with the three major countries bullying the ICC.  That’s my personal view, because as I have always said, an institution is bigger than individuals. You cannot guarantee which individual will occupy the top position in either of these countries. And, the ICC constitution, as it stands today, says that in all the major committees of the ICC, these three countries will be automatically there. So all the financial and commercial aspects and the executive committee will be controlled by the representatives of these three countries which according to me is wrong.

“You should have the best man, whether he comes from Zimbabwe, or West Indies, or even from an associate or affiliate to work on a committee, who will promote the interests of the ICC.”

Simple statements of truth, but it garnered attention because it was entirely at odds with everything that had gone before.  Premature it may be, but there is at least a hope that the new man at the top actually gives a shit about the game.  From today’s press release, one line stood out in particular:

“No Member of the ICC is bigger than the other”

Others have been quick to point out that as currently constituted, this is not true, for India in particular have the power that no one else does, and as the major driver of revenue in the game, that is certainly not inherently wrong by any means.  And yet the statement has been made, and while they are merely words, they are good words.  And this is where ideas begin.  At long last there is at the very least a statement of first principles that he and the ICC can be held to.  This is some small progress.

Another item was that the chairman of the ICC could not hold office with any of the boards.  This has direct consequences for Giles Clarke, as President of the ECB.  He has long aspired to be ICC Chairman, but to do so he will have to give up his role at the ECB.  And yet the indications are that despite previously appearing very likely to get it, the change in structure has crippled his prospects.  Australia and South Africa have already made it clear they won’t support him, Sri Lanka are reported to be reluctant.  Given Clarke’s unpopularity in much of the ECB, it would be an irony if the English were the only ones in favour, and it is tempting to wonder if they are even more in favour if it means ridding themselves of him at the same time.  Either way, there will be few in mourning for the dissolving dreams of a man associated with the carve up of the world game like few others.

Other elements from the press release include conducting a review of the T20 leagues and their impact on the world game.  T20 is a reality, and could – and should – be something extremely good for the game, as it raises the profile, popularity, and yes, the revenues of the sport.  That we are in a position where it constitutes a threat to Test cricket and international cricket more generally is not inevitable, and never was.  To review this is again progress, with the tantalising prospect of providing a context for Test cricket in particular, as the form of the game most under threat.

Is it an answer?  No.  Is it even the outline of the answer?  No.  But does it provide the smallest semblance of hope that international cricket, and Test cricket in particular, has a future?  Just the smallest.  It is a start.  If it goes no further, then the downward spiral, which has been paused today, will resume.  But nothing is inevitable, and with the right people at the helm, things can improve.  Today is a good day, the despair is slightly lessened, and maybe, just maybe, Mr Smith has gone to Washington.

 

The End Game?

Clarke
Your Next President Of The ICC

This blog is absolutely no fan of Giles Clarke. His appearance in Death of a Gentleman was perfect pantomime villain, except he was deadly serious. He wasn’t playing for laughs or entertainment, he was self-justification personified. I’ve talked to a number of journalists, cricket writers and bloggers on line and it seems that he is the one subject that unifies all of them. I’ve hardly heard anything good about him.

The carving up of the ICC into the Big Three was something that got us all going. We aren’t alone, but one thing running through this blog and with our commenters is the love of much overseas cricket. Blackwash evokes the memories of the great West Indian teams. New Zealand are, in recent times, a thrill to watch. Pakistan evoke great passions in the commenters, Sri Lanka as well, especially with Sanga and Mahela. There is nothing but huge praise for Dale Steyn, and anger that we play a great team so infrequently. There’s unanimity on the need for a larger World Cup.

The justification Clarke raised was that when the ICC was being carved up, it was he who got India into the tent and not left outside to effectively go it alone. For this the ICC tournaments were handed exclusively to the Big Three for the next decade. Clarke got on the side of Srinivasan, despite his travails at home with the betting crisis involving his son-in-law at Chennai Super Kings. Srini became ICC Head Honcho, and Clarke got to be his replacement in 2016. It was neat, it was tidy.

Then Srini fell, and the game changed. I remember asking a source what the impact of the new broom in Indian cricket would have on the ICC. At the time he was non-commital but had some views…

He thought the grounds had shifted but had no idea if Manohar was going to be pro- or anti-Clarke.

We believe that the election was a fudge, to prevent a bloodbath at the ECB. That’s an accepted view.

He stated that if the BCCI professed to not knowing everything about international cricket, Clarke would be in the room as a loud voice telling them. But he was certainly of the view that Clarke’s position looked less solid.

I might bring some more, but need to speak to the individual first.

It appears as though Manohar has indicated he’s not sold on Clarke’s charms (backing the wrong horse I would imagine, Giles) and now we see the intimations that the vote will be open, there will be freedom to choose (I wonder if there will be an Indian candidate) and that some of the Big Three grab will be returned. These sound like good stories.

The Telegraph is all over it. Nick Hoult is doing great work. The Independent is silent. Andrew Miller has run this prominently on Cricinfo, the Mail is silent. And The Guardian. The Guardian is silent too. The Guardian is not interested. The Guardian does not mention it. The Guardian doesn’t really do ICC business unless it’s internet rights for the Beeb and something that tried to paint Giles in a good light. I think their coverage is shameful on the future of the sport.

Now the ECB has a dilemma. They created a post which would allow Clarke to go to the ICC and do his thing. Now, on initial assessments, he looks as popular with India, Australia and South Africa as a rat sandwich, and now we are faced with a man in a position where he’s a liability and not an asset, and there is no clear path on what to do with him. The ECB’s next move is going to be extremely interesting….he doesn’t look the sort to go quietly.

It was said by Clarke that no-one should be interested in sports administration. Look over there, that implied. People aren’t “looking over there” but the Guardian, for one, is. I don’t have time to dedicate to this post now, but hope it gives the flavour and welcome insights and views (and please add related links when you come across them – who knows, there might be a Guardian one there one day).

Giles-Clarke-and-Sir-Alle-001
Come hither, Al, and look at my soul….er, I mean this is all David Collier’s idea!

Off The Long Run / Deep End – Death Of A Gentleman / Death Of A Way Of Sport

RoyalsWhiteSox JFS 9-15-14 1751

As I start on this journey of a piece, it has the makings of being a really long one (and now I’ve finished it, not sure it works, but here goes). It goes to the heart of me as a fan of sports around the world. Of my love for cricket, of my lost love of football, of my hopes to see a team like the baseball champions Kansas City Royals (a team unable to compete financially with the big clubs in the States, but still able to win it all) win the league in England, of my hopes of seeing a team run by faceless wealthy oligarchs get relegated. Of my watching every single sport become a vehicle to make massive amounts of money at the expense of spectators. Of a media in hock to the money-making charade. Of organisations where the only way you can postpone the possibility of jail time is to stay in charge. Of money ruling everything. Of the extinguishing of the commodity every football fan of a club outside the richest in the world possessed – hope. Hope. Sport made you hope.

When Jarrod sent me the copy of Death of a Gentleman I sat there and watched in…. well I don’t really know what my emotions were. I wasn’t surprised. Giles Clarke is an absolute pig of a man, and there would have to be a question of judgement against anyone he’d class as an ally. I wasn’t shocked that India were looking after themselves – after all, that’s what the big clubs do in football here, so why the hell are we shocked at that – and as for not widening the game, well let’s face it, it’s only a matter of scope. Club football loves the expansion of the game because similarly levelled talent of footballers from Eastern Europe and Africa (and South America if they didn’t predominantly move to Iberia) are cheaper than English counterparts. No major English club (and, by extension it seems, their fans) give a flying f*ck about the national team and developing players for it. In many cases, quite the opposite. The club sides were businesses, and the big clubs don’t feel the need for a sucessful national side to keep the home fires burning like they used to.

I wasn’t shocked that some players, like Ed Cowan, would give everything for their first cap, but the counterpart is that they might not feel so enamoured of the game when they get to, say, their 70th. Once something becomes routine, almost an entitlement, then that sheen of optimism wears off and it becomes just a job. But it’s nice to be reminded of the good side of first selections. Then there is the focus on test cricket. It doesn’t make commercial sense, so therefore, because of that it should not be played. It is not entertaining. Sport should not be played in front of empty stadia. We can’t serve up dead pitches because five day cricket is inherently boring. It is a form of the game worth saving because…. and it comes to the ultimate test of skill, technique, concentration and athleticism. However, those qualities sell better if there are more games. Shortening becomes efficiency. That’s what the people want in their busy lives…. So dead pitch test matches are bad. Very bad. They are driving people away.

That’s a line of argument gaining traction whenever we have a pitch where you might have to work really hard to get very good players out on it. I’ve been on this mortal coil now for over 45 years and people have become this way – short-term driven and wanting to tinker. Attention deficit and a generation of tinkerers. You know how it is at work. You can’t stay the same, you have to change. Change is good. If you are not open to change, you are an impediment. What happens now is administrators, managers, CEOs have to change something. There needs to be something done because there is always more to do. Innovate or die. And that’s my problem. Sport now apes business, because it has ceased being about sport, in many case, and more about business. I used to go to, and play, sport to escape business.

What is sport for? Well, actually, it isn’t for spectators, it is for the joy in playing it, isn’t it? Sport in itself is a form of enjoyment, of individual achievement, and when in a team context, of playing with your mates or forming a bond with like-minded adults or formulating friendships as kids. It’s getting the best out of yourself. Doing something that is better than work, perhaps to get away from a daily grind. So sport, at its base instinct, is about the players. When you were a kid, you played cricket until you got out. You might be stopped in street cricket when you made 50, or 100. You didn’t constrain yourself with limiting overs, field settings, who could or could not play. You didn’t care who was watching. When sport was more organised, for me it was Schools cricket and junior clubs, they would put some constraints on what you could play and then you sought to build innings, practice defence, and try to improve.

A key tenet of the debate going on now is that people aren’t developing the same love of the sport as they did when I was a kid. That cricket, obsessed with monetising the talent, is hidden behind a paywall that pays it more than a terrestrial channel. George Dobell, in his latest piece on Moeen, made the point:

At Moeen’s old school, Moseley, 80% of the kids do not have English as their first language; 40% receive free school meals. You don’t have to be a genius to work out the long-term effects of charging almost £100 for a ticket to international cricket or putting it behind a paywall on television. The game is in danger of becoming invisible to a huge section of society.

The role of TV in this piece is all-pervading, but I’m not sure if it’s the illness or the carrier. The fact is that cricket is, in some markets, an important commodity. Indian TV contracts are massive. In England, the absence of an IPL or a cricket equivalent to the football behemoth, means the contract is all about televising England’s national team. In this country it means test matches. I know how much more keenly test matches are viewed, by one look at the hit stats for the blog. ODIs capture nowhere near the attention. We’ll come to why, soon. Maybe. But it needs to start at what sport means to me. What cricket is…

When I was a kid it was all test cricket. No-one really cared about county cricket as a kid, and I didn’t go to my first County Championship game until I was a University student. Cricket was played in the streets by kids back in the 80s, because I was one of them. We played football in the same streets, despite being told not to by the council busybodies. Football is very visible, and yet I don’t see any kids playing it in the street on my council estate. There are less teams playing on Sundays over the playing fields I used to play on. Participation levels appear to be down, even informally. I lived cricket, though, because although I was never really going to go to county cricket, I followed it in the papers. I even purchased a long wave radio so I didn’t have to wait a couple of days for the scores when I was on holiday and could listen in to the snippets of cricket on the World Service.

During my formative years there was a school of thought that televising football live would kill clubs. Yes. People actually fought tooth and nail to keep the FA Cup Final as the only live club game on TV each year. It’s almost unthinkable. TV coverage was totally removed for the first half of the 1985-6 season. Nothing. Not a thing. At all. There was a running joke that West Ham’s Frank McAvennie, recently signed by them from St. Mirren and who was scoring for fun, could walk down the streets and no-one knew him. Football didn’t die. Of course not.

Now to make money, sport has to be about spectators – but it has become about TV spectators now. Players want to get paid for what they do, and they want it in increasing amounts. As those amounts get larger, the people paying them want more bang for their buck, and to try to keep the money flowing. They’ll increase ticket prices, play TV companies off against another to get in more revenue, and still they’ll increase prices, get into bidding wars with other mega-wealthy clubs to get the best players, who play less often because they are increasingly saved for matches against the best teams. Gideon Haigh summed up the role of you, the spectator, in DoaG perfectly – we are there to be monetized.

I’m a little bit of a lefty, you’ve probably guessed that, but I don’t live my life with my head in the clouds. Players want their fair share of the money going around, and that’s understandable. For the vast majority of sportspeople, especially in team sports, careers are short at the top level, and those lucrative media jobs for post-sporting careers are few and far between, while coaching and managing at the top level is both short-term and high-risk. But with money comes cynicism (I know it is not an exclusive relationship, but it’s just worse when high values are involved) both in terms of the superhuman feats a player is expected to perform because he/she is earning amazing amounts of money, and from the players, who might, or who are not able, to perform superhuman feats on cue every time they are asked to. It then means we might feel short changed when we see something that isn’t up to standard from them. That player will be crucified in the press, the braying, baying media pack who want “drama” “stories” and “soap opera” rather than sport. Your team wins some times, it loses some times. We are in the era when big clubs are not allowed to lose. Ever.

It is us, the spectators who are at fault. Most of us aren’t good enough to play at a high level, yet act like we know what it takes. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. Now your choice of football team is often seen as a reflection on you. I support my local club exclusively in England. I don’t care much for any other team. A team with a style of play I like might lose one week and I wouldn’t give the first f*ck about them. My team is Millwall. I was brought up in Deptford. My Dad was a Charlton fan, the rest of my family Millwall. My cousin got me first, and took me to the Den in 1979. I was a Millwall fan, for life.

Now, in SE London, I see people with Chelsea shirts, Arsenal shirts, Manchester United shirts, less Liverpool shirts than you used to, and for the love of all that is holy, Manchester City shirts. Their choice of team isn’t in reaction to their locality – hell support those jokers from Selhurst Park, it’s better than Arsenal – but it’s not just their choice that riles. They pat themselves on the backs as if they’ve backed a penny share that’s suddenly had a good Annual Report. Meanwhile, of the three local clubs, Palace are having a decent run, but it will only take a raid on their best players, and a downturn in form to see them back where they belong; Charlton are now a Belgian league club’s plaything; and my lot are arguably back where they belong – a tier two/tier three yo-yo club. Only diehards support lower league clubs now. We’re seen as an oddity, as if there’s something wrong with us, as if we don’t have the mental capacity to choose a big team.
So it goes for cricket.

I am a Surrey fan, for life. I chose them in the late 1970s. They were my granddad’s team, they were the nearest ground to home, and someone with the same real surname as me played for them (hello Mr Alam). They are my team for life, and believe me, it took 20 years for any glory. But I appreciated it so much more that it took so long. I am also a supporter of the following other sports teams – Miami Dolphins (Superbowls since supporting them – 1, and they lost it); Boston Red Sox (started supporting in late 1990s, when Pedro was doing his thing – they’ve become winners since then); Chicago Bulls (nearest I come to a glory hunter, but supported once I got to see Michael Jordan play on TV – before the Championship run) – and stuck with them through their slumps, which they have all suffered (Miami the 1-15 season, Red Sox bottom of AL East two years on the bounce, Bulls post the glory years).

The modern spectator has more in common with the Bulls following than anything else. They want to win, and they want to see the big stars at their team. Extrapolated to the TV audiences, it means big clubs, more often. Top stars, more often. Money makes the world go round.
In cricketing terms we all know what this means. The biggest money is in India. Therefore, the biggest stars are in India, a nation that remains proud of its own, and yet loves those from outside that embrace the culture and the fanaticism. When this is combined with cynical, money-hunting businessmen, on the prowl for more power, there’s an unstoppable nexus. Feed the fanaticism, make more money. The IPL stands alone as the T20 league to play in. The money, the fame, the adulation. Cricket on a level playing field with football. No wonder players want to play in it, and others worry themselves sick about it. India hold all the negotiating hand here, and everyone knows it.

Anyone in England who thinks this is outrageous, then look at how the Champions League is run. How the Premier league is run. The aim for all is to make sure India keep the IPL away from their turf, to keep themselves sustainable. West Indies have suffered the most. England and Australia, the least.

Again, anyone in England wondering why India want to guarantee nine matches in the 2019 Cricket World Cup, because of a shock exit in 2007, haven’t paid attention to a Champions League that spends 48 games to halve its numbers, with a lovely seeded draw to keep as many big teams apart as possible, and a draw designed to maximise revenues in the big markets by not allowing more than two games per nation on any one day, and by stretching the 2nd round out over four weeks, not two. There was nothing wrong with the old European Cup knockout model, except it didn’t make the big teams enough money. When UEFA had the gall to remove the second group stage, there were howls of derision from the bigger clubs, and many a veiled threat – but fans saw through it and it was almost too obvious in its soaking of the fans. The big club spectators want more of this exotic stuff, not less, but too much damages credibility. India are mimicking big football clubs, and yet we get howls from supporters in this country that they do so. We must be having a laugh……

India has been threatening an IPL2, have been using their international team as pawns in ageo-political money accumulation game for years now. They have the power. Without them, every country with the exception of England and Australia is sunk. Sports authorities, and those making money out of them, rarely look for long-term rewards, because within a few days your corruption might be fatal, your face might not fit, or some younger, or more innovative whipper snapper has seduced your enablers. It’s only going to get worse. I sound like an old codger, I know, but we’ve got a load of twenty-somethings come into our office in the last year or so. I like pretty much all of them personally. But they don’t see long-term. They see rapid development, an entitlement to promotion rather than it being earned in the long run of hard graft. There is impatience. There is practically no dissent to authority. It is not about common good, it is about the pursuit of your own goals. It’s the culture in which they were raised.

That sort of culture, to take an extrapolation if you might allow me to, means sports that take five days, played in empty grounds, are anathema. These are top players who could be earning more. They could be used more. The lopping off of six weeks at a time to play three matches in a desert location makes absolutely no commercial sense. Commercial sense. It isn’t about growing the game, getting more teams involved (after all, we grew it in 1999 by promoting Bangladesh to test status and they still aren’t up to it), it is about getting the best players on people’s screens, in front of lots of people. It isn’t about cricket lovers, certainly us old codgers, because we aren’t the target for advertising – that group between 18-35 is the holy grail – and advertising makes the TV money go round. A modern culture demands a modern way. Death of a Gentleman is more Death of an Attitude.

The film highlighted all it needed to. A governing  body doing what all other major board seem to do – hoard power and cash, run the sport on short-termism, pay lip service to development and monetise the best players as frequently as possible – and players moaning about workload in the one instance, but grabbing every bit as much cash as they can whent the opportunity arises (which is why I won’t listen to KP on county cricket, for instance. He made it where he is because of it, not in spite of it. He moved to this country to play it). Giles Clarke is a lovely coat-stand to hang our ills on. Maybe he is right and we should ride India’s coat-tails. Maybe the counties are right for fighting for the status quo, because, let’s face it, their existence in the form of 18 teams playing four day cricket book-ending the limited over stuff is every bit as logical as test cricket in Mohali.

Whether test cricket lives or dies isn’t up to me. The Ashes will live on, as long as we have players capable of playing long-form cricket. There is a lot mentioned about context of tests, and the refusal to have a Test Championship is mind-blowingly short-sighted, but what was the context when the West Indies were ruling the world, or Pakistan played test series against India that would feature a result once in a blue moon? These aren’t new issues. Cricket is more expensive to watch, both at grounds and via subscriptions. So is football. So are most other sports.

I’d like to finish this long ramble up with a comparison to baseball, which I mentioned at the start. You can’t go a week or two without reports that viewership on TV is down. That baseball is a dying sport. That no-one talks about it over the water-cooler. That the NFL now rules everything in the US. Baseball will still be there in decades to come. It is a slow, cerebral game, which I love. It cultivates its base by making its local TV rights, and national shows available. It has a website that was the envy of many other sports which made watching your team outside of market very cheap (£90 for every match in a season, more or less). It plays on its history, a sepia-tinged “father and son” narrative. It’s a sport embraced by the Latino community. It’s also competitive. The current richest team haven’t won a title since the 1980s (Dodgers). The perennial richest team, the Yankees, have won the championship once since 2000. Last week, the Kansas City Royals won the title having been in the finals last year. According to sources, a greater proportion of younger people watched the World Series than in recent memory. It’s food for thought.

A Hornet’s Nest

Over at our friends at the Full Toss, a proper debate has been going on – it started initially on Twitter, with Tregaskis raising a point, and snowballed from there.  The whole thing can be read through Maxie’s post on TFT, and I’m not going to repeat it here, so the link is as follows:

http://www.thefulltoss.com/england-cricket-blog/the-return-of-caesars-wife/

Here’s the thing.  I like Maxie.  I like his writing, and I like him personally.  I’ve had a couple of good nights out with him, and enjoyed his company thoroughly.  Which is why I know that saying I disagree with his premise is not going to be met with shock and horror, but more “Oh really, why?”   Because if there’s one thing I do know about him, it’s that he’s exceptionally comfortable with the idea people hold different views to him – it’s something that always makes me smile when you get the more virulent criticism of him for his articles, he is quite interested in those who don’t agree.

It’s one of those things that is striking across a few of these blogs.   Dmitri is the same, forever worrying about whether his perspective is a reasonable one.  The irony is that it’s me who tells him to ignore the trolling and the abuse, yet I’m the one who is probably thought of as less polemical and more nuanced.  The true beauty of all of these debates is that it involves real people, who can be hurt.

From his post, it seems Lawrence Booth in particular felt that he was being unfairly maligned, and here I have enormous sympathy with him.  I really can’t see a thing wrong with something like a golf day that might involve a few players.  And this is why – in my own line of work there is a fair bit of what we might call “promotional” activity.  The deal is what is has been for generations across many kinds of career, we take them out, spoil them, show them a good time and when it comes to contracting maybe they’ll be better disposed to us than our competitors. Naturally, our competitors do the same.  It’s the kind of thing that tends to be pontificated about as somehow dubious, but it’s normal practice.  More specifically, I’d fall down in a faint if something like that made a potential client switch to me, it doesn’t happen, it’s way more complex than that involving building trust and – the key point – getting to know people.

For journalists, their stock in trade is copy for their newspapers.  It’s nothing like as simple as on here – I can write any old rubbish and click “Publish” and up it goes.  The press pack have to pass it via their editors and hope that some kind of simulcrum of what they wrote appears in the paper the following day.  It is extremely easy to be totally cynical of all media output, and it just ain’t that simple.

Want the proof?  I can write a piece on here talking about Kevin Pietersen, and the hits we get double from normal.  Hell, just the fact his name is used will add a few extra ones. It’s extremely easy for us to manipulate the content if we were so inclined, and thus when online papers do it, the line that it’s clickbait might be true, but it’s successful clickbait.

Neither Dmitri nor I make a penny from this place, so we can say what we like, but it’s pretty easy to see how commercial sites love it when you can do something that straightforward to get extra hits.

So for a newspaper journalist, first and foremost they need to create copy that attracts attention.  That might be about – say – Joe Root, as we’ve seen with the Telegraph interview with him that has got plenty of notice.  But what we can’t do is expect those articles to come out of the ether, and that’s where the whole point of argument has stemmed from.  It’s a fair bit easier for former England batsman and captain Michael Vaughan to do it, but for a normal cricket journalist, to provide an angle requires them to do the legwork both before and after.

We know what Root (poor lad, still using him as the example) did in raw figures and anyone can write that, it’s just that barely anyone will read it because it’s dull.  How does a journalist provide context and colour?  It’s by getting to know them, talking to them, allowing a sufficient degree of trust that they will speak to them in the first place.  So both because of my rationale about hosting events, and because of the peculiarities of sports journalism, events such as a golf day are critical.  What else would people desire of their correspondents?  Glorious isolation? It simply is not going to happen, and the journalists aren’t doing their jobs if it does happen.

The unguarded comment from someone suckered in by a journalist they trust is in itself part of the job, but they can’t do that unless they know them in the first place.  It’s just not a fair argument to attack people for doing what is in reality their job.

On here we have offered up plenty of criticism for journalists not holding the ECB or ICC to account, and those criticisms stand absolutely. The frustration about that can’t mean though that everything they do is therefore criticised, we have to be fair about this. When we get a fascinating interview with Nick Compton, it’s because that journalist spent time getting to know him well enough for him to talk, and created sufficient trust for him to open up. It doesn’t help anyone to pretend the means by which that happened shouldn’t.

Criticism for not doing their jobs properly is legitimate and necessary. But not for when they are.  And heaven only knows there are enough things to complain about there, for there really is much too cosy a relationship between some journalists and the ECB, while the fact that the senior cricket correspondent of one of the broadsheets can’t even be bothered to watch Death of a Gentleman remains as pathetic a dereliction of duty as there is.  But seeing reds under every bed weakens the argument, it doesn’t strengthen it.  Sometimes they’ve simply done nothing wrong.

The Magic of Sport

Sometimes we need a bit of a reminder.  The machinations of governing bodies, the cynical way the media allow them to get away with it, the frustrations of the unheard supporter.  And yet from time to time, something happens to remind us of why we love it in the first place.

I had the joy and privilege of having tickets for the Rugby World Cup this weekend.  In Brighton.  For the South Africa v Japan game.  A routine match, surely – one where the pleasure gained would be in seeing plucky underdogs giving it a go, and watching some truly great players of the game perform in front of me.  It didn’t work out like that.

Many of you won’t be rugby fans, and this blog isn’t about other sports anyway, but the relevance to every single sports fan of whatever type is that it reminds us why we watch, why we got interested in the first place.

I love rugby, I always have.  I was there for England’s ridiculous 55-35 win over France as they did everything they could to snatch the title from Ireland, and that was wonderful.  But it was for a given value of wonder, and non-rugby fans wouldn’t have given two hoots.  Where yesterday differed was that it was an example of where a sport, not one that is always in the wider public consciousness, grabbed the attention of many more.

ITV reported that they had 4.5 million viewers by the conclusion of the epic events yesterday evening, as word got around that something remarkable was happening.  It’s an astounding number for a game that didn’t involve a home nation, and yet another illustration of the power of free to air television. Within the stadium, the fervour grew ever greater, as Japan time and again fought back from behind.  The moment they crossed the try line in the fourth minute of overtime the place exploded, as 29,000 people (less a few South Africans) decided that at that moment they were all honorary Japanese.

Now, World Cup tickets in this tournament are outrageously expensive, and anecdotally a lot of rugby fans have decided not to bother in protest at the gouging that is going on – though since it’s pretty much sold out, the governing bodies won’t care.  Equally, many of the grounds decided to increase the price of food and drink, to extract a little bit more from the matchgoing fan – although at the Amex Brighton Community Stadium (sponsorship rules again) the service was so woefully slow – rugby fans wanted beer, who’d have thought? – that it probably cost them thousands in lost business anyway.  Yet again, avarice amongst organisers is a prime motivation.

But sport has a delightful habit of doing the unexpected.  Japan’s victory yesterday, along with Georgia’s earlier in the day, was duly celebrated by fans across the world, the huge upset(s) giving life to the tournament, and enormous pleasure beyond the game.  And yet here’s the thing, Ireland beating England in the Cricket World Cup was just the same, one of those moments that even if it’s your own team you have to appreciate the wider importance of outsiders coming through and beating the elite.  The difference is that World Rugby (as the IRB have rather pompously renamed themselves) will be utterly delighted, the game’s popularity will receive an additional boost, there will be kids in Tokyo and Tblisi throwing a rugby ball around this morning.

What rugby won’t do in response is to decide the likes of Japan and Georgia shouldn’t be in future tournaments, or that South Africa’s defeat is a disaster for the game where their current plight of potentially not qualifying for the quarter finals needs to be prevented from happening again.  The international body managing rugby is a mile away from being a force for unmitigated good in the game, they receive (rightly) lots of criticism for failing to support the growth of the game outside its heartlands adequately, and the big nations are pretty grasping too.  But they also know that to expand the game you need moments like yesterday.  Indeed, Japan are the next hosts of the World Cup in 2019, a scenario it’s impossible to imagine cricket contemplating.

Yesterday was amazing.  When Japan crossed the try line having eschewed the chance to take the draw with a kick at goal in favour of going for the win, that deep emotion you can feel from wonderful sporting theatre went through my whole body.  There’s not a thing that can beat it, despite the attempts by those in power to take it away from us.

The sheer joy (and disbelief) on the faces of Japanese supporters outside the ground is a memory that will stay with me.  The stories of such things as Springbok fans forming a guard of honour for their Japanese counterparts at the ticket barriers at Victoria station remind us all that we, those who care, are what make the sport special, for without us, there is no game.

I had to re-watch the highlights this morning to check it really happened.  It did.  And it was absolutely bloody marvellous.  Cricket considers this a bad thing.  Think about that.

@BlueEarthMngmnt