Let Me Tell You About A Little Situation, It’s Been Testing My Patience

Sport is emotional. I am pretty emotional. Warning – this is a bit of a rant, jotted down in one take, with a duff keyboard and a lagging laptop. By the end, I’ve had enough of all of it. So just a head’s up. My laptop is still intact, although the swear box has been filled nicely. So take it away…..

Lyrics from a song I like this year (well a remix of) but sums up where I am. I’m not writing about an ODI that followed a well-trodden path, even if it contained the sort of century that you can only dream about. Moeen is rightly popular among many – a throwback cricketer in many ways, and someone England should be proud to have. To play an innings like that should dominate my thinking, my prose, my match report. But in truth I barely watched the game. Things to do, places to go, other sports intruding on my time, other chores needing to be done. Devoting a whole day to sitting in front of a screen, commenting on the cricket is a luxury I can have on only so many occasions. Obviously this means you miss hundreds like today.

But the lyrics in the title (from a song called Tearing Me Up) are directed more at the contents of the article by Nick Hoult regarding the ECB contemplating ending the five day test and shrinking the matches into 4. Graves, at about the same time he was talking to KP and then denying he said what he said, mentioned this sack of garbage a couple of years ago, and most of us put it down to the witless ramblings of another useless administrator who might have money, but had no idea. Empty Suit, presumably because two people at the top of the ECB can’t really be disagreeing with each other, backed up this tosh, but no-one else seemed really serious. Distinct hums came into our airspace when Shiny Toy and #39 started to really float this out in the open. Shiny Toy kept the myth going that all five day tests that reside in our memories as classics could all have been the same with 4 days. Because he is floating it out there that there will be 8 hour days at the test to bowl 100+ overs. Good grief. As Jimmy said on commentary today, they struggle to bowl 90 now so “not sure how that would work”.

Then, this week, we heard that South Africa were trying to make the four day match planned for Boxing Day against Zimbabwe a “test match”. You know how these minds work, it’s as clear as day. “Hello, there’s an opportunity out there, if South Africa get this in the books, maybe we can do it.” The reasons are that they will save seven days play a year, that Day 5 being removed will save substantial costs, and it will make the game more consumer friendly. Have they asked those consumers if that’s something they actually want? The ones they care about. Don’t bother. Specious arseholes.

I am, by my very nature, a traditionalist. I don’t care that much for T20. I’m not that massive a fan of 50 over cricket, but can recognise there’s a bit more nuance to it than spinners bowling darts, small boundaries, big bats, and yes, the skill involved is high. But to me the one thing that T20 does that is anathema to me in cricket, is that it makes the sport about individuals and not about teams. A great T20 player, someone who can bat for an hour and a half smashing it everywhere, is fun the first three or four times I see it. It then gets dull. It normalises the amazing. After a T20 hundred, where has that person to go? Make another for another team somewhere around the world? There’s no team allegiance, but rather have bat will travel. A constant complaint about test matches are there is no context. Where’s the context of playing for Surrey, Port Elizabeth, St Lucia, Quetta, Melbourne, Kwazulu-Natal, Delhi, Bangalore, et al. Lord almighty. Hired guns, performing at a cricket ground near you, and hang about, he’ll be playing for someone else soon. Many team sports you know do this? You are one step away from Exhibition Cricket where the result does not matter. A jot.

Test cricket matters to the players. Sadly not to the spectators it seems as they don’t seem to turn up around the world. But five day test cricket works as a sporting endeavour. 4 day test cricket, now we have been used to five days for pretty much all my cricketing life, is another concession to money. That ship sailed years ago and only the collapse of mighty sporting TV institutions is going to reverse it. The five day game works. If players are not going to bowl 90 overs in a day now, I can’t see how it’s going to work in four days. The players are going to be against it. We here are quite zealous about the lack of penalty for slow play, and yet in four day cricket the games could be much more vulnerable to such nonsense. To me, that’s the key problem with four day tests – it is utterly vulnerable to losing a full day’s play. If we get a rain out on Day 1, we have three days to construct a result. The team batting first could be badly punished for batting well – 350 for 2 after the second day and what are they to do? Pull out stupid early and then the game hinges on whether the team batting second makes the follow-on total. If they do, we might as well pack up and go home. Day 4s mean that you can set up a Game 5. Losing a day’s play on Day 2 would mean the same sort of farce, and Day 3 would ruin pretty much most games. You could have a thrilling test where England score 300 on the first day, the opponents could makes 280 on the second and England are 40 for 1 at the end of Day 2. A beautifully balanced test that could finish on Day 3, but looks destined for a Day 4 finish. Then we have a rained out day and…. England are 60 ahead and are going to have to make a daring declaration to win or bat out the day and try again. I think the third day rain out will kill many a test match. What you going to do, make them bowl 130 overs on Day 4?

That was quite long-winded, but test cricket has adapted to five days and the game is brilliant for it. There are many bad ODIs and T20 games. But a bad test has everyone clutching the pearls. But bad tests still have meaningful performances and five days can draw out thrillers from nowhere. Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago, for instance. Four dull days, great performances by Malik and Cook, and then a nervy collapse and we have a chase down. Four days and that test match will be condemned. Five days and pressure brought a top finish. I don’t even need to go down the Adelaide 2006 route. Adelaide 2010 would have been a draw due to the rain. India’s magnificent win there a few years before 2006 would have been a bore draw. Test matches, 90 overs a day fit 5 days well. I see no problem to be solved.

Except we don’t believe in tests any more. Youngsters are not interested (we are doing bad jobs as parents and sellers of the game if this is the case) we are told. Keep telling someone the problem is test matches and then you believe it. The ECB wan more T20 because they want more money. Players aren’t going to be giving cash up any time soon, so the powers that be will need them to play more – and charge us more to watch.

I’m packing this in for tonight – will return to it tomorrow as my keyboard is giving me the hump more than the ECB. You get my drift. I’ll be back tomorrow to rant some more if there is time. Four day test matches will be the end for me. It’s change to accommodate an inferior format, in my view, and like any punter I can choose to watch or choose not to. And I am now about to throw this accursed laptop across the room.

Good night.

UPDATE – A non-denial, denial. Let’s gird our loins for the consultation..

In a statement, a spokesman said: “ECB has no firm position on the staging of four-day Test matches. We can see benefits that more compact scheduling might deliver but are sensitive to the potential effects of any change to the traditional format. Careful consideration is required to support the right decisions for the wider game, and on-field matters are key.”

Further consultation will therefore take place before far-reaching decisions are made. “We would welcome more insight on the effects for players and fans in order to help the game make a fully-informed decision on any proposal,” added the ECB’s spokesman. “It is important that cricket is prepared to innovate in all formats of the game where it can help drive interest, accessibility or improvement.

“Above all, ECB is committed to a healthy and competitive future for Test match cricket, here and around the world.”

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Now Everybody’s Under Somebody’s Spell, Unless They’ve Already Gone To Hell

T20. The future of the sport globally. The thing we all want to see. The most exciting format of the game. Crash, bang, wallop, ramp shots, big hits, spin on top, great fielding, intensity. What’s not to love?

I’ve been to two T20s this year – Surrey v Essex, which, was, of course, the last time KP batted for any length of time in this country. Surrey v Glamorgan, a game which came down to the last ball with Surrey possibly nicking a tie having been behind the curve for much of the match. Both games were acceptable as cricket matches. The Essex game for the skill Surrey showed in strangling the life out of the Essex innings and stopping our perennial nemeses Bopara and ten Doeschate from taking the game from us (should have brought the other pain, Napier, back for that one match). The Glamorgan game for Surrey scrapped to get near a really decent total. Instead both were marred for me by the idiots surrounding me in the stands. I’ve only ever to been to T20s at two other grounds – Lord’s and Beckenham (and that was in the first year) – and I know the Oval has a reputation for being a rowdy venue, but I find the whole thing a little unsettling. I’m no angel – you don’t follow Millwall home and away for decades without seeing a bit of naughtiness – but this was acceptable conduct. When the football fan wants a beer at his/her sport, there are myriad rules you have to abide by. When the cricket fan wants one, it is how quick can we pour the watered down piss, and see you in another quarter of an hour.

The result is that most of the people don’t seem to have a clue about the skill levels in the game. I’m not exaggerating. At the Glamorgan game there were a load of city workers out for the night, and I will not get over the lot in front having a bingo card with ludicrous cliches which I suppose someone was supposed to cross off when someone / anyone said them. Why, on a Friday evening, nice and dry, would someone say “sticky wicket” I have no idea. Maybe I needed to be in it to understand it. I saw them before the game, never saw them again. It was symptomatic of the level of “bantz” around me. Still, they paid for their tickets and they take their choice. I can shake my fist and tell them to get off my lawn, but they are staying.

Last night, in the dark September evening in Chester-le-Street, the two teams that contested the World final 18 months ago met for the first time since we were told to “remember the name”. England showed how much they valued the game by resting Ben Stokes at his own home venue. The West Indies brought over their champion team – in the case of Carlos Brathwaite it was for this match only (clearly we can forget the name for ODI cricket) – and ended up winning quite comfortably. We pointed out last year that the schedule for the 2017 international summer was a sick joke. At the time Pakistan finished their test match tour here last year, West Indies would just about have arrived this. We still have two weeks to go. The last ODI is after the last County Championship game ends and if the CC had gone the distance like last year, Sky wouldn’t have been there because the ODIs take priority) which is mad. Utterly mad. When the English cricket season finishes on Friday week at BransgroveDome, we will be 28 hours from October. It’s the bloody future.

I wouldn’t have minded as much if last night’s game had provided any interest. But where’s the pain of defeat? Did it matter that much, if at all? I hope BigKev doesn’t mind, but I’ve used his tweet to sum up exactly how I feel.

And this is it. Should it matter. Should we treat T20 as a totally disposable sport, that a game doesn’t really linger. A tour de force to win a match, such as for someone of my vintage that means Viv’s 189, or Allan Lamb at MCG, is only memorable if it is a relative one off. If you keep seeing massive sixes, and 50 ball centuries, it’s great but given their relatively regular occurrences, not as long lasting on the memory. I will say now I will not remember one of the sixes from this game in a couple of weeks time. I will remember Chris Gayle’s schoolboy run out where, frankly, he couldn’t be arsed to dive. He was quite open about it during his interview and the Sky box thought it was all rather amusing. Gayle himself said he was ballwatching, while Sky seemed to care more that he had a standing ovation from the Durham crowd. You were more likely to see KP in an England shirt than any mention of “Universal God” and his past misdemeanors. When Universal God told the crew he fancied another shot at test cricket instead of saying “oh, that’s really good of you” it was like he’d given them all individual tickets to his pole dancing nights. Except Bumble. And we’ll come on to him in a minute.

The fact is that the West Indies T20 superstars are bigger, much bigger, than West Indian cricket. They are a good team, who prioritise T20 above all other formats. They are world champions for a reason. Narine bowled four overs for 15 runs, strangling the life out of England’s reply. It made for really dull cricket if you wanted the artificial stimulus of a close finish. By the later parts of the England reply I switched over and watched Millwall’s goal and near misses against Leeds. I took the dog for a walk. It was dull, in its own way. Even dull passages of test cricket, and there are many, are part of the story. You can recover from one, the game could pick up at any moment, it could be a key part of an intriguing contest. 2006, Adelaide Day 4. A dull day’s cricket, Australia accumulating, England striving, looked bad, and was not that exciting to be at. But without it, Day 5 would never have happened. Test cricket survives, can even thrive, on dull passages of play. T20 is killed by it. The West Indies won because, even with some of their players not putting it all in, they were still better than England. We had all the nonsense about how they are well drilled etc, but England came within a freak over of being world champions and many of the team that played that day were there. Not buying that.

Finally, to Sky’s coverage. Given I tried to do an over by over in the comments, I paid more attention than usual. David Lloyd had not had to pay for a ticket. David Lloyd is probably royally looked after. David Lloyd is becoming less a respected cricket commentator and more a crippling self-parody. When Ian Ward paired up with Robert Key for the second half of the West Indies innings we had enthusiasm, insight, good commentary, and most importantly it wasn’t about them, and it wasn’t about “entertaining” the audience. They treated the watching public like adults. They didn’t need to evangelise, like Nasser does with T20 (he loses his mind in this format – he really is in need of the less is more mantra) but you get the impression that they liked being there and that came through. Lloyd’s bizarre wrapping himself up in a blanket and acting like a 5 year old in the second innings was embarrassing. We know it’s cold, but it’s because your channel needs content, and is prepared to pay for it, we get to see the spectacle of T20 international cricket in mid-September. You are moaning at your own company. Was anyone at Sky happy with one of their employees basically sticking their middle finger up at their own scheduling needs? I get the real hump with commentators moaning about their own conditions when they are getting paid royally to be looked after by all and sundry, while international cricket fans in the North East get a T20 match in Autumn as their only chance to see their team without a 150 mile round trip to a northern venue. They didn’t give this game to Taunton, and the Taunton one to CLS, did they? Those cricket fans turned up in droves, created some form of atmosphere, and yet a Sky commentator moans about being cold for the whole game.

The ODI series starts Tuesday. I have a week off work. We’ve got a couple of guest articles lined up, and I’m feeling a bit more in the groove. It could be fun. Well, for me at least.

UPDATE – It is Universe Boss. Not Universal God. Like it matters. I do have his book to read. Can’t wait.

From Northern Parts and Scottish Towns – Today’s T20

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Some Are Here and Some Are Missing…… I once went to a T20 international

As pointless posts go, this is up there. I’m doing an open post for a T20 international played in the middle of September at Chester-le-Street. If we have a poster game for how entirely messed up the current cricketing environment is, this is it. Context? Who gives a stuff about context? It’s a one-off game that doesn’t really count for anything other than a game on the day. This is cricket not as a sport, with results counting for something or other, rather a cricketing version of a comedy series Christmas Special. It stands out, it doesn’t need to fit in with a narrative in the series, and it’s rather bleeding unnecessary other than to make some money.

That’s modern sport. Fuck the competition. To hell with what matters. It’s entertainment. Honestly, if they thought it made more money, we’d have the game as a bloody film event. What’s the downside for the loser? International friendlies in football matter more, because if you lose them, you lose ranking points that cost you seedings when it comes to tournaments. Draws are rigged in the international cricket scene, so don’t compare apples and oranges.

Most of the headlines have been devoted to the third ranked England cricketer in the Power List being left out at his home ground to give him a rest. Number 1. Ben Stokes is the most powerful England cricketer and in my view, it isn’t even close. He’s the highest paid overseas player in the IPL. He won the MVP last year, I do believe. If Ben Stokes decides he fancies earning a million or so dollars every year rather than play an early summer series against Pakistan, then we are in dire straits. The two players above him in the list, Joe Root and Moeen Ali do not have that power because they are not in line to play in the IPL. Stokes is the key to our test team not falling on its arse. He’s been our player of the season. I can’t say I’d be starting up his fan club as I’m not overtly keen on the approach he takes on the field, but as a talent, he’s as good as we’ve had for a while. (I’ve not got a copy of the list yet, but seen Lizzie Ammon’s photo which ends at 44, and with last year’s #39 not on it so far. This year’s #39 is Ian Ward. I’m interested what power he wields!)

There’s no newbies on show for England, who have lost 4 of their last 5 games to the West Indies, so there is little curiosity in the event. Jason Roy and Alex Hales will probably open. Tom Curran is as near as we get to a new international in the line-up. West Indies, who are fast becoming the equivalent of Fiji in rugby, look a formidable team, with new talents like Evin Lewis in the ranks (not that new, he has two T20 centuries already) and captained by Carlos Brathwaite (I remembered his name, but not a lot of his performances since that night). I’m sure it will be super fun as the temperature is predicted to be around 52 degrees and possible showers. Power List #1, aka Empty Suit, is probably thrilled, making cricket an almost winter sport, but I can’t help but feel that this is a bridge too far.

Until you consider we have a FIVE game ODI series to follow.  It’s what the people want, after all. Take a thick coat, and enjoy the show.

Comments below.

UPDATE: Here is your top 50. And last year’s…

Dmitri Old and the Real T20 Experience (and an American’s first game of cricket)

You know I’m not a fan of T20 cricket. It’s like those 30 second clips you get on Amazon of songs off an album (no, I don’t like streaming, kiddies(. Sometimes you get the important part, the chorus, the hook, the key verse. Sometimes you get the boring guitar solo or nothingness of an instrumental. You rarely get the full picture of a sport not meant to be played like this. To give the potential opportunity to bat for hours, days in pursuit of the undetermined. The variation in conditions, grounds and weather interventions, that form part of the tapestry of the long-form are eliminated more or less from the T20 genre. It’s not what got me into cricket, test matches did, and prominently Viv Richards in 1976 with his double hundreds, but it is still cricket. At least I think it is.

So off I trotted to Surrey v Essex on Wednesday night. Before some might carp, these tickets were bought well before Kevin Pietersen announced he was going to play for Surrey, but the primary purchase was to take my American colleague, we’ll call him Stan, to his first cricket match. It would be his entry point to the sport I bang on about. He also has kindly written his comments on the occasion in a quintessentially American way for us. I hope you find them interesting. His last paragraph is particularly interesting – “even the brash version of the game was unassuming” – didn’t exactly resonate with my experience.

I have been to Surrey T20 matches before, but the last few have been in the Pavilion. This time I was in Block 9. I was in among the legendary Surrey T20 evening crowd. The reputation was of hard drinking, abusive support, and a disregard for the game in front of them. I am a Millwall fan. I’ve been home and away, in fact my 20s and early 30s saw me travel the country watching them. A Surrey home game in the T20 would be a walk in the park. Hardly the razor’s edge.

First of all, getting to the Oval from anywhere in rush hour is an total pain. The Northern Line is a horror, and we had to walk from Kennington Station, which isn’t a massive problem, but symptomatic of some of the sporting difficulties we encounter when a venue has no parking. There’s little point in expanding the Oval to 30,000 if the transport can’t cope with 20,000. But we put up with it. The contrast with my visits to baseball in the States is stark. Once at The Oval the bag search was laughable. I mistakenly left a half-full bottle of water in the bag. She ignored it (it was 1.5 litres so couldn’t be missed), and now I’m sad there wasn’t alcohol in it! Already the concourses were rammed, the queues for beer lengthy, the extortionately priced food less congested but doing (un)healthy business. There is a definite buzz, but not the one you get before a football match. There seems little investment in what is about to unfold. It’s ultimate entertainment. People want to be entertained, far and above caring about the result. Sure, there are Surrey diehards there, like me, but do I care if we lose? Not really. Do you really care if you win the competition?

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Surrey won the toss and batted. This I understood from being told by John, who had bought the tickets and had met his son. In common with most of the night, I didn’t glean this from the public address system which was hopeless. Or it could be that someone sabotaged it because Colin Murray was on the mic. My suspicion is that Jonathan Liew might have done that. He likes Colin Murray. The teams were put up on the scoreboard, and when Ollie Pope was shown, I went “who”? They didn’t have his name and I couldn’t hear the announcer!

Surrey came out with their fearsome looking opening partnership of Aaron Finch and Jason Roy. Essex opened with a spinner. It didn’t work as Finch tucked in to him. I advised Stan that 10 an over through the powerplay (I also explained the 6 over restrictions on the field, after explaining what an over was) was probably a minimum given the high scoring games seen at the venue thus far. Progress was good until Jason Roy somehow hit his own wicket (I couldn’t really see how it happened on the replay) and while expecting Kumar Sangakkara to come in at number 3, we soon realised it wasn’t that maestro.

I have to say that the pervading noise around me was booing. Now I cannot tell how many of them were Essex fans, but I’ll wager they weren’t all from Essex. Now as you know, and as I once wrote at length on How Did We Lose In Adelaide, this thing absolutely pisses me off. Pietersen may be a hate figure, but you pricks wouldn’t have been cheering the parade, rejoicing in 2005 without him. None of your current heroes has done anything near that. Comma has. Freddie has. Ashley Giles has. They haven’t. How dare you boo one of our all-time greats? I wouldn’t boo Cook, and I’ll bet I feel like a lot of the anti-KP mob when it comes to him. It still “boils my piss” as Stan found out!

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KP and Finch dropped the pace a little as the former tried to get into his groove. Finch still let loose a drive or two, but then went himself. So to join 8181 test runs at the crease would be a man with nearly 27000 international runs to his credit. I tweeted about what a privilege it was to see them both at the crease at the same time. T20 in England still has its moments, and both these characters, for differing reasons, are irreplaceable.

Neither player could get into a rhythm and indeed Pietersen was dropped on the boundary when trying to cart Zaidi over mid-wicket. This seemed to galvanise Pietersen afterwards, and I have to say a couple of moments made the evening worthwhile. Simon Harmer came on to bowl, and Pietersen hit four sixes in the over. I’m trying hard and can’t remember ever having seen someone do that at a game I’ve been present at. What’s more, two of them flew straight over my head at long-on. I am a Pietersen fan as a batsman, as a cricketer (more about the lack of fielding later) and to think this might be my last chance to see him play in England made it more special. Even when a little over the hill, a lot out of practice, and seemingly at war with much of English cricket (who, never forget, started the fight), Kevin Pietersen still can surprise and delight with the bat. You’ve seen some of the pics.

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Pietersen was the only one who could get going, while for Essex the sight of Mohammad Amir was also something to behold. He seemed to be the main man to control the scoring as the runs seemed targeted off other weaker bowlers. Surrey kept losing wickets. Kumar holing out to square leg off a sweep shot; Sibley bowled by Zaidi, Pope caught off Walter. KP moved past 50, including 5 sixes, before himself teeing off and getting underneath a Walter delivery, seeing it caught by new England selection Tom Westley on the long-on boundary. The applause going off wasn’t deafening – too many people didn’t have a clue – but this writer appreciated seeing him play. Sitting underneath towering sixes reminded me of the sheer genius that the bloke possessed. Perhaps he still does. Off the golf course, no proper T20 play since the PSL, and he can do that. Yes, he was dropped early, but he capitalised. Only after the match with the next best score being 28, did you realise quite how good a knock it was.

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Surrey’s total was 150, after some stops and starts and no real fluency. You have no idea at the game how the wicket is playing, and although not lightning fast due to the storms the night before, the outfield was not slow. Boundaries were at a premium though. Sibley, Pope, the two Currans did their thing, but other than provide me with a spectacular pic (Sam’s Stumps Splattered), there were few fireworks. I tweeted at half-time that it looked a wholly inadequate score, but doing that I was basing it on the previous two T20 games played there. Where 200 wasn’t enough.

Before getting on to the second innings of the game, I thought I’d make my observations on the client base. I did not move from my seat for the whole game, which was cheeky as beers were being bought, and thus did not circulate. It’s bloody noisy – not that test match buzz which I sort of miss, the low hum of conversations around the ground, but something a level, several levels up. It’s not football match chanting but it is increasingly “weather-worn” folk shouting at each other from the seat next to their recipient of vocal intercourse. As usual, because I’m a grumpy so and so, I was getting more and more irate with the muppets behind me, and I’ll go into that more as the article progresses. But of more interest was to the right of Stan. It was a father with two young kids. Not a great guesser of age, but I’d say 11 and 8 years old. Now remember, this is the target audience for the new T20 competition. They are our future. It was good to see them there.

However, they were kids, and what they saw on the field did not captivate them one bit. First of all, the little blighters couldn’t sit still. We had to let them through on numerous occasions. Dad hadn’t taught them the etiquette that you don’t do it until the end of the over, but he was far from alone in that. When one did sit down he played with his Nintendo portable system for most of the game, while the other played on his tablet. They didn’t “engage” with the onfield action at all, as far as I could tell. It’s a small sample size, I know, but didn’t fill me with hope. Not sure if the Surrey Lions or whatever we might be called will be any different from a super franchise team (and Surrey have a lot of name talent in their squad), but the suspicion is that a new product needs more to win hearts and minds.

After a short interlude, and Stan relates what he thought of the T-shirt shooter, where I couldn’t hear Colin Murray, Essex came out to bat and got off to a decent start. It seemed very much to be a “new ball” wicket, where the batsmen had to make hay early on in the innings. I like Dan Lawrence, and think he has a big future, and he and Chopra set about the total. Sam went for a few in his opening spell, which meant that idiot behind had something to shout when he came down to where we were sitting. Sam had to take the most god-awful, stupid abuse from a tanked up imbecile who clearly was a lot less clever than he thought he was. Unrelated boundaries hit by an Essex batsman were met with “you’ve cost them the game, Curran” or “that’s your fault Curran” even when they went to the opposite part of the ground.

It was also dawning on us (as if it had been announced on the tannoy we’d never would have heard it) that KP wasn’t fielding. The murmurs went round that this was a classic case of “pulling up the ladder! We used to call this a HABAFO (Have a bat and….well work the rest out). He was replaced by Rory Burns. By and large Surrey were hungry in the field. They nicked out the two openers, and then felt they had to get the two real danger-men, Ravi Bopara (who nearly won Essex the game in the first contest) and Ryan ten Doeschate. Also, there was new test selection, Tom Westley, who didn’t stay for the duration. The run rate crept up, the wickets kept falling, with Batty very impressive. Ravi went, Ryan couldn’t hit the boundaries, and Surrey pulled the noose tighter and tighter. They ended up restricting Essex quite comfortably, with Tom Curran being particularly impressive at the death again.

And then 24000 tried to go home. At the same time.

Walking out of the ground is a chastening experience, Very drunk, very noisy and I’m not convinced that many gave a damn about the game or the result. It just seems like a chance to get on the lash, and Surrey are not ashamed to enable this. Service at the bars is efficient. You don’t wait long to get served at all. What I found slightly soul-destroying was the sight of grown adults scouring all parts of the ground for empty beer glasses to earn a pound a pop for returning them. It felt a bit tawdry. Maybe I’m just an old stick in the mud, in fact, I know I am.

Look, I’ll be honest. I’m not a massive T20 fan, and the experience was not as bad as I thought it was going to be (I didn’t see beer thrown, there were no Mexican waves, and the people standing up mid-over had to be excused). You can always get the idiot sat with you (he wasn’t in the league of the Indian fella at an ODI in the early 2000s. It was a miracle I didn’t clock him) but even he just made me mad because his abuse wasn’t funny, clever or, in fact, related to the truth in any conceivable way. Plus, you always have the feeling that he might have been you before. There were some mouthy cricket know nothings on the bus back to London Bridge, but again, I’ve been to so many football matches and met people like this, and it never compared to some of the plankton at the Adelaide Oval. I didn’t take an age to get home, either, but got lucky. I never saw a programmes seller, so never got one. I like that sort of thing. This ground is the exemplar in getting people to part with their money. £5.20 a pint was remarked upon on Twitter as being some horrific price. Do these people drink in Central London pubs? The £1 to return your cup is to deter beer snakes, but instead encourages other forms…. The beer isn’t undrinkable, but not far short, but I can handle Yardbird if it’s on offer. The leg room is garbage, and is why I don’t go to tests there any more.

Did I enjoy it? It’s not as bad as I may have portrayed. I found the cricket enthralling, and isn’t that the point? When Surrey scored 150 I thought this was 30 light, but they bowled and fielded hard. They made Essex work, and they couldn’t keep up the momentum. A game the following Friday followed a similar pattern. My colleague (not Stan) at work said he found both games boring, but they were both contests. The cricket on show more than made up for the duff stuff off it, but not for the reasons the ECB or TV want.

The star of the show, whether you liked it or not, was Kevin Pietersen. The murmurs and outright accusations that he was faking injury not to field were probably put into context by Friday night’s antics. KP is a divisive character, more so since retirement from the test and international arena, and he can say some obnoxious and stupid things. He can also be incredibly prescient. I saw a lot of rust in his play, but then he hit Simon Harmer for 4 sixes in an over. That’s Pietersen. Box Office. You can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t say T20 doesn’t matter, that it’s just entertainment, and then get huffy when he acts like a diva, but plays shots out of heaven. It was amazing the Twitter response to both matches – the plaudits, the hatred, the defenders, the vitriol. I like him. You know that. For what he does on the field.

It was also a real pleasure to see two quicker bowlers on the top of their game – Mohammad Amir and Tom Curran. This game was not a batting parade, but a chance to see the skills of pacemen in a batsman’s game. Their ability, pace and cunning were on show. Amir tied KP up, as well as not providing the width or length to allow Roy and Finch to really get the game off to the flyer (although they went quickly enough). Curran, T has come on as a death bowler and although I hate that “routine” celebration, preferring spontaneity to something over a prep piece for #39’s lamentable advert, he has real nous now. Jade may well be a very good teacher for all we know. I have to be nice to Jade, he blocked me on Twitter ages ago.

We also got to see two legendary keepers. James Foster is a joy to watch behind the stumps. Utterly capable, smooth, no rough edges. Surrey had Kumar in the gauntlets. Hell, if you are going to retire from a sport that punishes your knees, finish them off with a spell of keeping. Still, he completed a stumping in the game.

Chris, Sean and I have purchased tickets for the 4th August match against Glamorgan. If you are there, or in the vicinity, please let us know and we’ll try to catch a drink or chat with you. T20 isn’t for everyone, but a bad day at cricket is better than a great day at work, and if Surrey are still in the running to make it through, as they should be, and if Colin Ingram is in form like he has been, it could be a really nice night out. If you can put up with the others around you.

And so, to Stan…..

Hey, where’re the Surrey City Dancers?

By Stan

Wednesday I attended my first cricket match ever. More accurately, I attended my first British sporting event ever. I’m an American. Having lived in London for a year now, I had yet to immerse myself into local sport, preferring to keep track of sports across the pond. Fortunately, I work with one of the authors of this blog and I was invited to The Oval. Although I had months of warning, I made a conscious decision to not learn about cricket in advance. I knew that even the most exciting description of a sport would pale in comparison to the experience. (They call it a bat, right?) I wanted a raw first impression. The event, the T-20 Blast, sounds like something pulled from a Red Bull commercial. The name should be partnered with EXTREME! and IN YOUR FACE! and things that are neon and shooting flames. This event was decidedly not that. (Though there was fire, which was cool.) For an EXTREME sporting event, I was expecting more music, and noise, and three jumbotrons, and a team of dancing girls. Nope. To belay the point, even the t-shirt cannon, which is normally designed to knock out the person in the back of the top deck – WHOMP! – barely got past the 6th row – pfft...

However, I learned that the name was not completely inappropriate. This was as IN YOUR FACE! as cricket gets. The T-20 matches are designed to be fast and furious.  The teams are allotted one inning each, with 20 overs, curtailing the game to 3 hours. If you’re reading this blog, this is not news. It was to me. But, realising this, I began to appreciate this sport. This was not a showy sport, and trying to turn it into one could only go so far. This was a restrained game. There were exciting moments, to be sure. There were plenty of sixes hit. (Not home runs?) It was a close game, going down to the last few bowls. However, the ratcheted down environment encouraged fans to appreciate the game for what it was: an opportunity to see some of the best players in the world up close without the extraneous frill that other sports peddle. (He now knows Kevin Pietersen’s back story, as told by Old, D. – Ed)

The stands were filled with business types in rumpled suits drinking beer after a day at the office. Many seemed only casually interested in the match. I was informed that these were not fans that would be at a proper test match. The guy behind was eager to show off his knowledge of the game, taking Sam Curran’s proximity to us as an opportunity to repeatedly critique him with, “Hey, Curran, you suuuuck!”.

In short, this was a less than pure cricket experience, and I liked it. I like that even the brash version of this game was unassuming. In a world that is overcome with a barrage of noise, it is a pleasure to find a sport that is not given to excesses. I hope to see more.

Money Makes the World Go Round

A curiosity of sports administrators everywhere over the last quarter of a century has been the apparent belief that their drive to monetise the game in every facet would pass unnoticed by everyone else.  The fans, under the misguided belief that the game belonged to them were the first ones to be cast aside, as ticket prices rocketed, television coverage disappeared behind a paywall and the wider game became utterly subservient to the pursuit of manna.  The English (football) Premier League was the first to make the connection, and the pathway to the present can be identified a good decade before that came into being, firstly with the removal of the gate revenue sharing model, then with the abolition of the key rule preventing owners from taking money out of the clubs.  With that in place, it was merely a matter of time before it became an investment opportunity with all that entailed.

In the case of cricket, the most obvious examples were the move to Sky and the creation of T20 at a professional level (as needs constantly pointing out to those who believe it was radical, it had existed at club level for half a century), which then led on to the IPL and its assorted imitators around the world.

In the space of little more than a decade, cricket had become the new sexy for those seeking to exploit commercial advantage in a way never seen before.  To some extent it was no more than the corollary of the Packer Circus in the late 1970s, but the scale and impact on the wider sport was of a new level entirely.

The last few weeks have shown indications that all of these developments have been coming to a head.  The BCCI’s response to the proposal to dramatically cut their still huge proportion of ICC generated revenues was to threaten a boycott of the Champions Trophy, Australia’s cricketers are in dispute with their board over money – even if not necessarily their own – while in England the proposed TV package deals for the upcoming auction of rights have caused divergent opinion on the merits or otherwise in terms of what they might mean.  But there’s a central element to all of them, namely that it is about the money.  Always the money.

There is an important part to this, a central theme that cannot be ignored. That is that the moment a governing body of a sport – and note, a sport – ceases to put the sport itself as the prime, indeed only, focus for its existence, then it stops being about the sport itself.  It becomes a means of creating wealth, no different to any other business.  In itself, that isn’t inherently wrong or evil, but it does change the focus and the strategy and changes the rationale for the game’s existence.  This isn’t a lament for the days of amateurism, but a recognition that it becomes merely another branch of the entertainment industry, with all that entails.  Those who love the game for the sake of it are never going to be important any longer, their value exists solely in the financial contribution they can make to it, and if it isn’t obvious on a balance sheet, then for the purposes of future planning, they don’t exist.  It is for that reason that the thousands of people in any given nation who give up their time to keep the game going are not just overlooked, they specifically don’t matter.  Lip service is paid to them, but nothing more than that.  When they complain that the ECB or their equivalents don’t think they matter, it’s because they’re right – they don’t matter.  All that they do comes to fruition anything up to 20 years down the line and cannot be assessed financially in the here and now, and that is all that is important.

The various stories across the press are not disparate items in the world of cricket, but separate strands of the same wider topic.  The dispute between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association has been covered in the UK from the perspective of the unlikely possibility that Australia might not have a team for the Ashes, as though that was in any way the principal issue at stake.  Within the Australian media there’s much more nuance about the matters at hand, with Gideon Haigh as so often cutting to the heart of the matter.  The wider issue he addresses is that conduct of CA is such that it regards the players as commodities to be given their orders by their bosses, rather than as integral to the game itself.  Cricket boards have reached the point where the pursuit of money is the end in and of itself, rather than a necessary means to support and grow the game. This about face in approach is critically important, for once understood all the decisions and proposals are much more easily grasped and the reasoning behind all that they do becomes clear.

The best Australian players stand to benefit, in the short term at least, from adopting the CA proposal; their rejection stems, they say, from their concern about the levels below the highest, both amateur and professional.  Even if their opposition isn’t entirely altruistic – which it may well be – they have a very strong case in objecting to the removal of a revenue sharing model.  With all well paid professional sports stars, the cry goes up that they are overpaid, yet this dramatically misses the point.  No one goes to a game or watches on television because of the administrators, it is entirely and totally down to the players.  Every commercial deal is made on that back of that essential point, and the players deserve to paid in proportion to the money coming in.  It’s not even purely the international level cricketers either, for the showcasing of their skills is on the back of those below, right the way down to someone appearing on a Sunday afternoon for their pub side.  In the purest commercial terms, the players are the product, and while the value of a David Warner and an amateur club player is obviously vastly different, they still form part of the same equation.  That CA don’t see it that way at all can be gleaned from the attempt to divide and rule by separating out the top players from the rest to try to force through the changes.  Those leading performers deserve credit for both seeing through the ruse and refusing to solely look after their own financial interests.

Top sportsmen (and overwhelmingly, it is men) are rarely motivated by money once it reaches a certain point.  The difference between coming first and second in a golf major is not a matter of money, but of pride and sporting ambition.  Attempting to set one group against another when the money is already good is doomed to failure.  It’s certainly not just in cricket where there is resistance, in recent times tennis players at the top level have threatened action of those below them weren’t better rewarded for their efforts.

All too often, they are criticised for greed, the question put is how much more money do they want.  It’s a false equation – they deserve to be paid in proportion with how much is generated, largely by them.  It’s nothing more and nothing less.  Boards and owners regard them as employees to be compensated and do not see that the money does not belong to administrators, no matter how much they dislike that fact.  It is also why the boards have a mentality that grassroots funding is a cost, rather than the raison d’etre for their existence.  It’s why they try to minimise that outlay rather than consider it the driving motivation.   As a point of principle, the Australian players need to win this argument, even if the result may not be a community one at the end of the matter.

For this is not a parochial Australian matter, the same arguments will be had around the world.  The ECB are preparing their latest round of media deals for coverage and there has been much comment around the likelihood of some free to air television coverage and even some celebration that it will form part of the future arrangements.  This is misplaced, even though any free access is to be welcomed in and of itself.  The ECB are hoping to play Sky Sports and BT Sport off against each other to maximise the income, and have split the packages with that in mind. Almost all of the meaningful coverage will go to one or the other, since within Package One goes all the international cricket and the country cricket – such as it is in the latter case.  The new T20 league goes into a separate category, doubtless with the intention of it being the consolation prize for whoever doesn’t get the first one, and necessitating a second subscription for those who wish to see it all.  By splitting these the overall value is undoubtedly higher but it can’t be said to be good news for the individuals paying for access.  Which of Sky or BT gets them is neither here nor there in the larger scheme of things, given the Balkanisation of sports television.

Where it gets more interesting is in the free to air packages available, offering two men’s T20 internationals, one women’s T20 international, ten men’s and eight women’s T20 league matches.  On the face of it, it’s a reasonable size too, but it indicates a pure focus on the T20 side of the game for wider consumption. Partly this will be because terrestrial broadcasters have to fit sport around the rest of their schedules, and two and a half hour programmes will fit ideally in contrast to five days of Test cricket.  The logic of the argument that T20 is a gateway to the game more generally can be supported by the categorisation, but equally it can be seen as regarding the shortest form of the game as the only viable one from the perspective of both free to air broadcasters and the ECB itself.  This case has been made many times, most often in the misleading and specious argument that the likes of the BBC have shown no interest in Test cricket.  That is true, and is because the ECB have shown no interest in the BBC, so why should they bother?

Where the free to air packages go will also be indicative of whether the ECB take the wider broadcast of the game as being in any way important.  According to Nick Hoult at the Telegraph, the BBC are one potential home, but so are Discovery, via their Quest channel.  There can be no doubt whatever that the BBC would offer the largest footprint for potential viewership, just as there can be no doubt whatever that Discovery would sign a larger cheque.  Choosing the latter would be incontrovertible proof that money is all that matters to the ECB.  No protestations about the importance of growing interest in the game could ever be believed if they still hid away the free to air broadcast on a minor channel, for make no mistake, Quest is a minor channel, one which most people won’t even be aware.  The reach of the BBC is vastly greater than any alternative, including ITV, although few would complain if it went there instead.  If the ECB do want people to watch cricket, the main channels are the only game in town.

Whatever the outcome of the TV bids, the same processes applying in Australia are going to come to England as well.  Already players are going to miss England matches in order to play T20 tournaments elsewhere in the world, a situation that remains ever ironic given the way the ECB publicly berated and belittled Kevin Pietersen for wanting to do far less than is the now the case.  Those who have bought tickets for the matches in anticipation of seeing England’s strongest team will be disappointed, and are once again ignored as being irrelevant.  In England at least, it hasn’t quite reached the point it did in Australia where two separate national teams were playing at the same time, but the acceptance of the concept of the national team not representing the best available is well established, even before taking into account the ludicrous schedule that necessitates resting players.

England’s players are well remunerated in international terms, but the ECB’s focus on extracting the maximum from the game at the same time as concentrating power to themselves will undoubtedly lead to the same kind of friction seen in Australia.  The gap between the international players and the county ones is vast, the difference between genuine affluence and a barely reasonable living, particularly given the short career on offer.  Boards have opened the Pandora’s Box of commercialisation, and are now attempting to screw the lid back down as the realisation of what that entails begins to dawn on them.  Franchise cricket in the form of the T20 league is merely the apogee of this centralised mentality.  The county game will be sidelined – not in itself a disaster for the wider game were there alternate structures in place but there won’t be.  For many county professionals – let alone smaller counties excluded from the party – there will be a severe chill in the air, the downgrading of both county championship and the assorted one day competitions can’t do anything but damage their livelihoods for it is impossible to imagine the revenues from the existing competitions doing anything but dropping vertically.  More critically for the wider game, the same applies to Test cricket.  It is hard to believe that the ECB will wish for Tests to be running alongside the latest shiny toy, for that would weaken the commercial proposition they have pushed so hard to create.  In isolation, that might not be a disaster, in common with all the other tournaments worldwide, it’s severely problematic.  That T20 is now the prime focus for the ECB, and for cricket more widely around the world is indisputable.  The rub here is that T20, sold as the means of generating legions of new cricket fans, could have done exactly that with some wisdom.

At some point there will be a reckoning in terms of the England players too.  They can earn heavily as free agents and the security of an England contract only has value for as long as they can’t do better as free agents – which would include playing for England, but not under ECB control.  The top down model of enforcing both behaviour and availability works for as long as the boards run everything within their domain.  Their own actions are sowing the seeds of their downfall, yet there is no real awareness that this is the case.  The lack of focus on the sport for the sake of it can be seen with their treatment of the counties as an obstruction to be overcome, while even their initiatives at the lowest level are open to question. Danny’s excellent article about the All Stars Cricket initiative raises a fundamental question about their approach:  While anything to encourage cricket is inherently a good thing, the usual opacity concerning how much the ECB are investing applies.  ASC is a commercial venture first and foremost, and it’s hard to get away from the feeling that the clubs know better how to do this themselves, and would benefit more greatly from financial support to do so.  It smacks of a PR exercise that’s more about the ECB itself than the game of cricket, the cost involved rather gives that away.

Across all sports and indeed outside of sport, there is the danger of harking back to the past and viewing it through rose tinted spectacles.  School cricket was never the panacea some make it out to be, and club involvement in the modern era is vastly superior to what was on offer 30 years ago.  But never has the wider game been further removed from the sharp end of the sport which has transmuted into a money making machine with no regard for outcome nor care about the game itself.  The ECB remains an organisation that primarily looks after its own interests, never better demonstrated than in its structure whereby the non-professional game has no elected representation anywhere within it.  Its authority is self-reinforcing, driving downwards and telling the vast majority of English cricket what to do.  The much maligned FA is by contrast a model of democratic accountability, to the point that much of the criticism stems from it being an amateur organisation trying to manage the professional sport.  Cricket could not be more different.

Given that, it should not be surprising that the ECB (and CA) focus is on its own success, defined by how much money it can bring in and divide up amongst its stakeholders – yes stakeholders.  Not too long ago the ECB attracted derision for forgetting to include match going supporters in that list, but the truth of the matter is that this wasn’t an embarrassing oversight, it was a statement of fact.  You don’t matter.  You might play the game, you might go and watch the game, you might coach colts, you might umpire or do the scoring.  You aren’t important and you are thoroughly and completely taken for granted.  The only time it will be noticed is if the grounds are empty or if the TV deals decline in value and even then it will be a matter of looking at the symptoms rather than the cause.  The only bulwark against this are the professional players, the one group in all this who might be considered to care about cricket for the sake of it.  They are the only ones who might actually stand up for the game, irrespective of how many millions they might earn themselves on the back of it.

What a delicious irony.

 

 

In The Year 2028

It is 2028. English cricket is in turmoil. There’s a new report out that says after the 2029 Ashes, England will play any test cricket in May and June, including future Ashes series, and all other test series will cease. India has decided to extend the IPL into a six month competition, with 20 teams, playing each other home and away ending during the Northern Hemisphere summer, and at the risk of the test matches being played by effective 2nd XIs (or 3rd XIs in the case of the West Indies) it has been decided to cease playing test matches. The unspoken word is that key international players like Morgan Owen and Peter Kevinson are about to announce they will playing for the Ranchi Rubber Factory and Ahmedabad Reliance respectively instead of the 2029 Ashes, despite averaging well over 40 in the tests they’ve played.

Meanwhile the eight owners of the “franchises” (the teams were sold by the ECB to raise money after the disastrous 2026 summer, when England held home tests against Sri Lanka and South Africa without the visitors’ top players and crowds and TV audiences tanked) have joined together to announce, a la Premier League 1992, that they were breaking away from the ECB and forming their own English T20 Premier League company to run and administer their competition. Their first announcement after this would be to announce that two new teams would be added to the competition. Liverpool would get a new team, to create a rivalry with Manchester, and a third team would be put into London as the Olympic Stadium had been made available after West Ham had moved out to move back into a proper football ground. Given Lord’s and the Oval had sold out regularly, once the pesky Blast had been dispensed with in the 2022 Harrison Review, it made commercial sense to stick a team there, rather than the competing bids of Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin.

As a result of the breakaway, the eight current franchise owners announced that players would not be released for international or county cricket, and that given they were paying these players vast sums of money to pay T20, they would devote their careers to that format. Emboldened by the competition filling stadia throughout the land, the owners knew they held the whip hand. The ECB banned all T20 players from playing international cricket. The players shrugged. Kevinson’s contract with the Southampton Stars, the Ahmedabad Reliance and Melbourne Stars more than covered his needs without playing exhausting test cricket.

The franchise owners negotiated their own TV contract, with Sky taking 90% of the fixtures, and ITV4 having the rest. They also set to capture the internet interest by setting up their own ET20 website where cricket fans could pay £100 for the year to watch every game on streaming video. With all TVs getting their signal via the web, this was seen as more important than selling to a media company. The owners realised that not only could they contract out the technical side to one of the burgeoning private production companies, but it also got to keep all the subscription and advertising revenue for itself. Some people pointed out that MLB had been doing that for 15 or so years prior to the formation of the new T20 league in 2020, but now someone with a clue was in charge, the sport might get into the 2010s in terms of media coverage.

The sport had never had a more visible product, but traditionalists were left in the cold. Having seen the county championship abandoned in 2025 through lack of interest and quality, as many of the better players got minor IPL contracts in the expanded 20 team league, the only route into test matches was to shine in one of the T20 competitions. While Morgan Owen and Peter Kevinson had made sparkling returns, Roy Jason, a perennial scorer for the Kerala Kangaroos in the IPL, and for the South of the River Lagers in the ET20, had flopped in the last tour of South Africa. Graeme Cygnet, a promising young spinner for the Sherwood Foresters in the ET20 and the Canberra Crybabies in the 10 team Big Bash, found that bowling flat darts wasn’t a way to get top players out in tests, and we bemoaned the dearth of English spinners as Rashi Adil had retired the year before.

One problem loomed on the horizon for the ET20, and that was India’s announcement to have another league in the winter months now Test cricket had been shelved. In doing so they would insist that all players contracted to their teams would be to them only. World superstar Kooli Tendravid, a magician in all forms of the game, announced he would be the exclusive preserve of the Mumbai Billionaires, and immediately the ET20 team that had benefited from the relaxing of the Indian restrictions in 2024, the Birmingham Bears, went to the wall. Head of the ICC, Tom Harrison, said from the rented offices in the IPL HQ, that change was necessary to futureproof the game in India, and that the obsessive fanbase created in England needed to adjust to the new world. The following day Morgan Owen announced that he would be signing an all year contract for Ranchi and his putative ET20 team (he rarely played for them), the Marylebone Cricket Club Fancy Dress Party, would no longer be able to play him.

The ICC were left to fill the one event allowed per year in the timeslot assigned. The World T20 would be shoehorned in to the programme in September and October and would be played only in India. It is an annual tournament, with 6 teams representing England, India, Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the winners of a qualification tournament between everyone else, played during the IPL and ET20. Each team played each other twice, before a Semi-Final and Final. Three time winners West Indies had dissolved as an international federation, but Barbados did squeak in as the 8th best qualifier for the straight knock-out qualifying tournament. Their top players, Brathwaite Carlos, Brathwaite Craig and bowler Tino Mediocre, were all playing in the IPL and ET20, earning £500k and more each. When Barbados demanded they play for them for a match fee of $50, they were branded mercenaries for turning it down and banned for life by Cameron David, the head of the Barbados Cricket Association.

Wisden, henceforth known as the Bible of T20 cricket, has shortened to 100 pages and is an online resource only. The real bible has become CricViz, with the stats obsessed franchises utilising the data for the annual draft for new international players. Cricket blogs either looked back in joy at the exploits of Alastair Cook, laughed at the inefficiency of Brian Lara’s backlift, or went to town on Morgan Owen’s Fielder Utilisation Coverage ratio. Paul Newman still maintained Kevin Pietersen should have been sacked, George Dobell had been made patron of the Chris Woakes Charitable Foundation and Derek Pringle and Dmitri Old had a bar fight with their zimmer frames after a chance meeting at the ET20 exhibition at the Olympic Stadium. Mike Selvey and Giles Clarke, seeing what had become of the game, had driven off like Thelma and Louise, pursued by angry obsessives, bilious inadequates and the quaint social media zealots who still used Twitter.

In a sad reflection of the state of the modern game, Alastair Cook, aged 43, scored 205 not out for Essex against Sussex in the successor to the County Championship, the Southern League. He took the attack to the assortment of 30+ and under 20s left playing second tier cricket. When asked why he was still playing, Cook said “you know why? Because I love playing cricket, and batting for more than an hour”. The audience laughed at him. “I once got a century in T20, you know” he added. “That didn’t count” said one media pundit. “It happened before the year 2020. Cricket didn’t exist before then”. That media pundit had ascended to #17 in the cricket hotlist. Below the ten franchise owners, the head of the ET20, a couple of player agents, the MCC (who owned a franchise, a ground and still had a 200000 waiting list), media personality Ben Stokes and head of the IPL, Ravi Jadeja. Simon Hughes had come a long way.

OK. It is a bit hit and miss, and I did it in one take. Some of it might be nonsense. But you’ll be fooling yourself if you don’t think some of it will come true. Like if the competition is a success it will be flogged to owners for cash. That’s how we do things here. Add your own ridiculous thoughts to the comments.

“Do SOMETHING! ANYTHING!”

Sean’s excellent piece on Saturday captured the arguments over the plans to introduce a new T20 competition succinctly and accurately. I must put my cards on the table here. I just don’t think T20 is much good. It’s not particularly memorable in its own right, and because it is so frequent, with game after game after game bombarding you, a tournament like the Big Bash just feels like it goes on too long. Which means the IPL has got to a serious “what the hell” phase long before it gets to its knockout phase, or whatever it is that concludes it. I went to the first ever T20 at The Oval, back in the day, where the sheer shock that the ground was almost full and the club had catered for half that, still sticks in the mind more than the game did (Comma made a 50 I see). It’s interesting to see how the articles refer to the same concerns on show now.

Questioned about a shorter format, almost half were against it but of the 34% who expressed approval, most had never attended a county game. And for Robertson and the ECB it was the possibility of attracting new fans – and crucially families – that convinced them to press on.

“I just couldn’t see how it wouldn’t work,” John Carr, the ECB’s director of cricket operations at the time, said in 2004. “But it took a lot to convince the counties. Fair play to [Robertson]. It is one thing to have an idea like we did, but quite another to sell it. And that is what he did. And not only to the public, because I thought that one of the most important things was that it was sold to the players. It would only work if they took it seriously and did not dismiss it as ‘hit-and-giggle’ cricket.”

I used to go to a few of them back then. I remember Andrew Symonds tearing some attack apart at Beckenham (it was Hampshire’s), a very well contested quarter-final between Surrey and Worcestershire when it was skillful bowling that saved the day, and the “penalty bowl out” between Surrey and Warwickshire. I was a member back then, and felt absolutely no desire to go to Finals Day, and I had a culture of following my other sporting love all round the country.

For me T20 was there for a one-off “hope something good might happen” but often disappointed. I got a couple of free tickets to see Surrey a few years back, and KP was playing so it was a rare chance to see him in action, but the games themselves weren’t very exciting to me. I realise I’m not the kind of supporter this new competition is meant to get to, but also I wasn’t a fan of playing it when I had the chance, and thought it wasn’t that great a concept. It was cricket for cricket’s sake. I remember going to a Surrey v Middlesex game on my birthday, and Middlesex barely got 100. It was cripplingly dull. Even the most boring day at a test was better than that. No amount of fire machines, dancing people and loud music could make up for the fact it was a rubbish game.

The clubs saw the chance in the immediate aftermath of the initial success to go from the five games they had planned in season 1, and they continued in Season 2, to more. Remember those lazy hazy first season matches at East Molesey and Richmond Park? This increased to 8 in Season 3 and went up to, 10 in its 6th season. The counties became dependent on it to continue, seeing it as a necessary income, and could not resist the temptation to overkill. In its eighth season, in 2010, it became a league of 16 games, with quarter-finals? Even then they sensed they were killing the golden goose, because it reverted to 10 games after two seasons, before settling on the 14 we have now with the Blast (from 2014).

What that showed is the counties had no real idea on what to settle upon, and I know a number kicked up fury when it went from 8 home games to 5 in 2012. The Blast has seen some improvement in the attendances and there appears a fair buzz towards it this year. The “appointment to view” with a Friday night fixture was actually, in hindsight, a decent idea, but that’s been watered down now we’ve decided to play the fixtures in more of a block.

Then we have the IPL and the Big Bash. Envious glances were cast at these two competitions. Both play in considerably larger grounds than we have in this country, and both, therefore, attract the money makers. The IPL was very much set up as the Premier League of cricket, and the BBL followed with a different kind of league, but in sun-kissed stadia, free to air TV, and the teams playing just 8 games each. Both played one game a day (occasionally two at weekends), but all were televised live, and that’s what has got the attention of the ECB and their influential friends in the media. There wasn’t a Big Bash occasion that seemed to go by without Shiny Toy doing down our competition and bigging up theirs. The aim to copy the IPL wasn’t possible – we didn’t have the money, or the calendar slot for it – hence the waltz down the Sandford cul-de-sac. But the Big Bash? Why not?

I have always said that new leaders have to have a new idea to be remembered by and it has to be a big one. There is no place in this world for staying still, because the world moves without you if you do. For some, the sheer fact that Test Cricket has been in existence for 140 years is anathema in itself. The English football authorities changed in 1992 to the Premier League, which, we are told, has made our competition the best in the world, but in doing so, virtually killed the other main crown jewel, the FA Cup, dead. As a football fan of a non-Premier League team, I despise this. There’s nothing in the top heavy structure for me, and the FA Cup is a joke. We beat three Premier League teams this year, all playing reserve XIs, before Spurs put us out by taking the game vaguely seriously. The FA Cup is seen as a consolation prize now. In twenty years the culture of it being the biggest single day out is now relegated to big clubs saying it is not enough to win it.

What will a new City-based (or whatever it is) do the Blast which seemed to be standing on its own two feet, was a competition anyone could win (see Northants and Leicester – it’s great Yorkshire, the mighty Yorkshire, haven’t won it) and people seemed to genuinely enjoy it? I think there’s an overly rosy picture painted of it, the Blast is not perfect, but it’s working out for all concerned and there is a rise in interest. I wish it were a little shorter, but then I already said I’m not that bothered about it. But when Michael Vaughan is wetting himself every time the Big Bash comes on, it’s hard to resist. If you look at how recent ex-pros, who didn’t play much county cricket towards the end of their careers, react to the onset of a new competition, it’s noticeable how many do their old breeding grounds down.

The new competition is designed to get new followers in to watch the game. Tom Harrison, the Empty Suit, is carving out quite a niche for himself as an absolute weapon. In selling this “vision”, his new management brings radical change “thing”, he’s not just in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, he wants to fit someone else up for the incident. In a series of responses to Sean’s piece, I picked out a few of them, but two stood out.

Obsessive

‘Counties have been incredibly successful having an audience that is obsessive about the game but our county brands are not cutting through so this is all about creating brands that are relevant to our target audience of families and children. We have to connect to their very busy world.”

I know, over the years I’ve been doing this, that I can take a throwaway line and make too much of it. After all, we aren’t called “Being Outside Cricket” for nothing, eh Paul Downton? But the choice of the word “obsessive” here is an interesting one. Obsessive has very negative connotations. As if you shouldn’t be doing something. If you obsess over something the inference is that you shouldn’t, or you should dial it back a bit. So if you are “obsessive” about the county game, maybe you shouldn’t be? Harrison, despite playing some county cricket, clearly has some negative perceptions of the people who follow it. Demographic perhaps, social class perhaps? It’s an issue that won’t go away. County cricket, last I looked, provided all but one England test player in my lifetime (ole Muppet Pringle came from the Universities when he made his debut). The County Championship has, I think many will say, flourished so the top division is now seen as a rival to any first class competition in the world. I watched some last year, and although we’re not getting the top world pros any more, the underlying quality of the home talent is pretty decent. It’s not for all, and it is based on what some would see as arcane old structures, but it kind of works from a cricket perspective. It also instills loyalty in it. That, Tom, is no bad thing. It is a positive, not a negative.

Harrison could, if he had a modicum of charm, had called the denizens of the county game “passionate”, “devoted” or “enthusiastic”. Instead, because they don’t worship at his sharp empty-suited altar, they are obsessive. They are also obstructive. They don’t go on “leaps of faith” or “Futurebrand presentations” but live in the here and now. Many have never accepted T20 but see it as a necessary evil, and their counties have kept the show on the road because of it. Now they see a new competition as a threat to their very existence. And so they should.

Harrison and his cheerleaders and parrots in the media are selling the by-passing of these views as a virtue! Not all of us are “county championship or nothing” fans, but I respect the hell out of those that are. They are the people who will tell their kids, and their grandkids, about the feats of the past, just as my Dad told me about his era. It is they who will tell kids born now of the majesty of Tendulkar, the brilliance of Lara, the dominance of the great Aussie teams, and yes, things like being at Adelaide, or seeing England hit the bottom of the Test table (though for me it will need to be my nieces and nephew). These obsessives are your core support, Empty Suit. Why piss them off even more than you have to? I feel insulted by that statement, and so should anyone who will be there in a week or so supporting their county as the Championship starts. The ECB can call it #realcricket if they want on their mildly annoying Twitter feed, but when the voice at the top thinks it is OK to use “obsessive” I think he gives away what he really feels.

It’s Not About The Game, Dummy

“Twenty20 is short and sharp. The actual game is secondary to the entertainment and fan experience.”

I remember watching Star Wars, the original, back in the day at the Odeon in Lewisham. It’s been long since destroyed. It was smoke-filled, the seats were crap, the service worse, the film quality passable, yet I still remember it. It was shorter than a T20, it was new-ish (I mean, we’d all seen Star Trek) and the thing that stuck out was that it was an entertaining film that I still recall.

I went to see Phantom Menace in a lovely multiplex cinema, massive screen, comfy chairs, all mod cons, expensive food and drink, and the film was garbage. Just because my “fan experience” was good, and there was much more comfort, the “product” itself, what you go for, was ropy. I didn’t go to the cinema to see the next two, or even the new one.

Harrison here is giving the game away. On the one hand he wants a competition to capture the buzz, the excitement, the thrills of the Big Bash. But on the other he says this is “of secondary importance”. What the serious you know what is he on about? What the Blast has, no matter how little you feel about it, is when you get to the latter stages of it, it clearly matters to a lot of people. Northants and Leicestershire should tell you that. They couldn’t give a flying one about a “customer experience” and more about are they going to win the competition, as do their fans. You can’t just, in this country for sure, astroturf supporters. It’s called grass roots support for a reason. Harrison isn’t trying to get new people involved by a meaningful competition, but by some sort of high entertainment exhibition. Again, you watch the Big Bash and there does appear to be, especially with the Perth team, an affinity between the team and the supporters, and they are playing their matches at their worst test ground for amenities.

The argument, it seems the only argument, for this competition is to bring new spectators to the game. Now this is going to be interesting to see how this is done. Let’s say, for instance, that The Oval is hosting a fixture against the North London team. I could see how a rivalry might develop, and both those counties have a relatively short commuting range to get to the grounds. The Oval has a bit of a rep for becoming a drinking den during the T20 games. Up the ante on the supposed quality, and those supporters would be interested in more of the same in the late Summer months. How are you going to keep them out? Because that’s what Tom and co seem to be implying. These guys are good at getting tickets – better, I would suggest, than families, mums and dads. The city boys who make The Oval “what it is” on Blast days won’t mind shelling out a few extra quid. Are we going to make large parts of the ground “alcohol free”? How are you going to police that? How are you going to ensure families get tickets, even if there is no idea if that market actually exists? Are the ECB, in effect, going to take over the running of the ground for that game, something they don’t even do for international fixtures? Why would Surrey let the ECB take over the Oval for 4 or 5 nights a year? And good luck trying that with Lord’s!!!!!

It’s OK for fancy dan presentations by Futurebrand, or whoever they are, telling the ECB how to run things, giving them what they want, but what does Harrison actually want? There’s woolly aims about growing the game, future-proofing it, putting it on terrestrial TV. There’s much out there saying the status quo isn’t an option, and that county cricket isn’t a brand that sells. It’s much like test cricket. If you talk it down enough, you end up with even the supporters having little long-term faith. Harrison has fancy ideas, but no idea what will happen. He’s taking a leap of faith. If you are asking me to have faith in an ECB leap of faith, then you are asking the wrong person. The ECB used up my web of goodwill ages ago. All I see are charlatans at the top, keeping the man who did the most to sabotage long-term growth (Clarke) in gainful employment, and his successor locked firmly in Downton’s cupboard in case he says anything more out of order than the Empty Suit. When you have Comma, with a straight face, saying this competition could produce the test players of the future (yes, lots of “spinners” bowling darts is just what we need), my eyes rolled. They want a Big Bash. Michael Vaughan wants a Big Bash. Nasser Hussain wants a Big Bash. #39 wants a Big Bash.

It would just be the most honest thing to call it Big Bash, wouldn’t it. I can’t wait for the South London Scum to play the North London Toffs, and I hope many families will come for the “customer experience”. Let me hear them make some noise…

Just Who Is This Clown?

Tom Harrison
Comical Empty Suit

You know me. I’m calm. I’m placid. Nothing much riles me. This blog has always been about keeping an even keel, being steady as she goes. But sometimes, just occasionally, someone pushes me too damn hard.

And in the past couple of days that person has been Tom Harrison, aka The Empty Suit. Here’s this no-mark’s latest missive from his saintly pulpit:

Speaking as the ECB launched All-Stars Cricket, which aims to get 50,000 five to eight-year-olds excited by the game this year, Harrison said: “The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this.

I don’t like unique, Simon H doesn’t like statements, I don’t have a lot of time for either formula or brands, and Mark doesn’t have a lot of time for any of them 🙂 . But this is arrant nonsense, and if I were Trevor Bayliss, or Andrew Strauss, I’d tell this effing bean counter to do one, or I’m resigning my post. If he wants to set the direction of travel for English cricket, then win the job as the absentee landlord coach, his laugh-a-minute deputy, or the man who put the comma into Director, Cricket. Until then, the way they play is up to them whether you like it or not.

One has to think what Alastair Cook must be thinking now. His job in the new England team, and my, we have a new England team every couple of months these days, is to be our anchor man. He has a promising young partner who appears to come to test cricket with an oven ready defensive technique and temperament, and we’ve got an Empty suit spouting off like a screaming child at a Bieber concert!

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

I want to bang my head against a wall. Look at Australia on the same day as Harrison is uttering this wibble. They’ve played magnificently to draw a test and stay in the series when they could have blown it. Like another team failed to do and did blow it not so long ago. Someone pointed out in the comments that isn’t this opening up players to play so-called “reckless” shots and being able to quote “that’s the way I play”. I seem to recall that not going down too well not so long ago. Not just with the powers that be, but with the media as well. Harrison is not some wet-behind-the-ears media newbie like Downton.

Harrison said it was “100 per cent correct” that growing the game mattered more to the ECB than England winning a one-off Test playing boring cricket.

Then you are wrong. If we win an Ashes test playing boring cricket, then good on us. You won’t be finding me ever criticising the 2013 Ashes team.

We’re in a competitive world now. The reason why T20 blows other ratings out of the park on television and attendances – and this is not just in the UK, this is around the world – is because people want to watch. They know they’re going to go there and see some dramatic cricket, they’re going to see some amazing skill.”

Oh fuck me. In one paragraph he’s given the whole game away. He’s not concerned about cricket over and above everything else. He cares about revenue. T20 revenue. Competitive world it may be, but you are saying you are giving up on tests, and that T20 has to make money to fund it.

“We know that we’ve got a relevance issue with five to eight year-olds at the moment, as many sports do. We know that we’ve got a sport which can appeal to these audiences if we position it correctly and we deliver experiences that makes sense to parents and makes sense to kids.”

So in doing so, we’ll pay no heed to the preachers of the game – the parents, the people who play and run the clubs the ECB seemingly have just discovered since Matt Dwyer came into the fold – who seem to quite like test cricket, enjoy watching it, and would like to actually, you know, get to watch it without selling a kidney for a ticket, or their kids for a TV subscription. He’s still not mentioning the elephant in the room, is he? He can’t be this empty, can he?

Harrison said that the ECB’s controversial creation of an eight-team city-based Twenty20 competition was driven by similar motives.

“We’re trying to connect everything we do with this new audience that we’re trying to attract to the game,” he said, adding that it was about “making sure it’s relevant for mum and the family to go and spend some time at the county ground watching, taking their children along, watching a fantastic, phenomenal, exciting game of cricket”.

And throw the baby out with the bathwater. Make those mums and families travel further, to see teams made up of players thrown together at random, and who will all fly off to play in another league where they are all thrown together at random and rinse…repeat. It’s not putting a lot faith in the competition, it cares more about “individual skill” and “phenomenal, exciting” games of cricket. Watch Day 5 at The Oval in 2005. Watch Day 5 at Adelaide in 2006. Watch tension and pressure ratcheted up to the hilt. It’s what makes the Ryder Cup great. You know it means so much. Playing for England rather than some corporate whoredom like the Premier League, and its fans, have become.

Harrison revealed that whoever won the rights to the competition would have a say on which eight cities ended up with teams. He also disclosed that the ECB’s various rights would be split into packages, with at least one made affordable for terrestrial broadcasters, who have been starved of live coverage since 2005.

“The last time we went to market, we did not have international T20 as a product which was really packaged in a way that excited broadcasters,” he added. “We’ve got the new T20 tournament, which is designed to grow the sport in this country. And that will excite broadcasters. It is exciting broadcasters.”

Notice how the supporters have only been invoked as meaningless children carrying fodder, there to get the mums and kids (patronising as it is that mums don’t already like cricket – my mum, for example, loved it. Breaks my heart she died just before the 2005 Ashes) to come along. But no, the rights winners “would have a say on which eight cities ended up with teams”. This is like someone has put the worst ingredients of every single focus group inspired marketing consultant into a sports authority and then added steroids for an enhanced performance.

Harrison denied that English cricket had become less visible since live coverage vanished from free-to-air, insisting players such as Ben Stokes had “huge profiles”.

Well then he’s a liar as well as a clown.

This article was based on the reportage from the Telegraph article – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2017/03/20/joe-root-told-england-must-play-exciting-cricket-even-leads/

The Product

“I had to be convinced because when I started out I was massively against it [four-day Tests], but I am for it because with Test cricket there is a risk of us loving it to death. We have to adapt.”
It’s been a tough time on the blog. Sean has been unavailable, Chris has been on his travels, and I’ve had the ongoing family issue in the States which thankfully looks more bright. It has also coincided with a period of limited England action. The ODI series in West Indies ticked the ICC Tours and England tour company boxes, but had little relevance to any future games. I really couldn’t care a dime about this North v South competition, played, as it is, in the Emirates. The quiet period is actually bloody important because England play far too much and any break is to be welcomed. Flogging a few of our players through all three formats for years on end is going to end careers prematurely.

For someone who has been on the blogging treadmill pretty much non-stop (we’ve had a few interludes here and there) for three years it has been a chance to actually take my eye off cricket for a while. I made little effort to watch anything while I was over in the USA, and I’m very much concentrating on getting out of the house quickly in the morning so don’t even switch on the India v Australia games. It’s on now, but it is hardly the most thrilling passage of play.

So last night, when I was struggling to get to sleep, I was thinking about what I could possibly write about. So I thought I’d probably concentrate at being an old man barking at the moon, and railing against something or other. It’s a vain person who quotes himself, but please let me have this indulgence. I replied to a Mark comment last night about the scriptures passed down by The Empty Suit (Tom Harrison) on the future of cricket in this country. In it, as is frequent in those circles, the sport of cricket, in whatever form it is played, is called a product. Now I’m sure I’ve referred to it as a “product” in the past,  but not in these egregious terms. It’s all about marketing, and image…. buzz if you like…. and actually not about the sport. Empty Suit was all corporate bluster and it pissed me off (and Mark too)

Harrison’s utter bullshit, invoking my favourite word “unique” (that’s a red flag indicating “charlatan” in my warning book) and as you say, Mark, “product” rather than “sport” or “competition” might fool some loyal followers of the used car salesman management text books, but it will never fool me when it comes to sport. Sport is not a product. It is sport. In essence, people playing. Wouldn’t it be nice if we got back to that?

Something has happened in the past weeks which has had me all wistful. It started with Millwall being drawn against Leicester in the FA Cup. It took me back to when we drew the same team in that competition in 1985. I went to that game with a friend from the same estate I lived on. He was 13 at the time, and we were great mates. We played football, we played cricket, we loved sport to death. He moved away a few years after, but I see him in on Twitter and he has a prominent-ish role in sport journalism now. I genuinely didn’t want to bother him with my nonsense for a while now, dropping a couple of hints if he wanted to follow them up, and yet he didn’t, and I was quite comfortable with that. This was because he is a journalist and I can’t say I was too keen on any journo knowing who I was at that stage.

Anyway, to cut a boring long story short, I got in contact after the Cup draw, and we are now talking a lot on line. It’s private conversations, but fascinating nonetheless, but I will quote one part. He said that what we have in common is a “childhood appreciation of sport” and I railed at this a bit. But then, on reflection, you know he is right. Sport is about playing, as I said to Mark, when you are a kid and that’s all that should matter. Playing, to the best of your ability, pushing yourself to improve, but to enjoy it. Like blogging. If this becomes a job, then I’m failing, and you’ll know it. When reading Empty Suit’s comments, you wonder what he thinks about the sport. It’s all about product this, experience that, context this, importance that. It’s a study in sport economics, not sport itself. Why should test cricket die if there isn’t money involved?

Sportsmen and women are, by and large, a lot like most of us. If we were offered a lot of money to do a job, and by so doing we would have to work shorter hours and less days, we’d bite that employer’s hands off. Why should cricketers, offered the riches of T20, be more predisposed to a gruelling five day game in the baking sun, than to a game usually played in the evening and lasting half the time of a normal day’s first class cricket? Gideon Haigh says in Death of a Gentleman that “T20 needs something to be shorter than”. The legends of the game aren’t really going to be forged in the white heat of a hit and giggle competition, but by efforts beyond the mere mortal, those of longevity, of perseverance. If you struggle to bat in T20 you aren’t given time to right yourself, as you are taking up time that others in better nick could better utilise. In test cricket it is part of the skill of the game that you can play badly, struggle, but work through it, blossom and triumph. You are given time to establish yourself.

The longer T20 goes on, the less I like it. I have always believed the worst thing that happened to the game was India winning the first T20 tournament. At that time India were sniffy about the game, thought it wasn’t right for international cricket and that they were above all that. Once they won the tournament, and with Yuvraj in great form smacking sixes for fun, the genie flew out of the bottle and we had the IPL. Players could earn fortunes, more than they got for playing for their international team, just by being great players, whether they were any good at T20 or not. The IPL may be the finishing school of cricket, as KP once mentioned (well, more than once) but it’s got little to do with what is happening on the field. T20 lends itself to betting. T20 lends itself to those with less attention spans.

Chuck D, one of the greatest musical lyricists of my time, commented that the black community seemed to want to infantilise itself, and have black adult artists appeal to kids as their primary selling aim, and so act childish. All that happens is the kids think that it is adult behaviour. I’m generalising, and Chuck D is a far better wordsmith than I ever will be, but his main point about those artists was that should concentrate on what they were, adults, and not talk down or dumb down for the sake of the corporations that run them. On a more trivial, sporting scale I see some likenesses. How many times are we told the T20 competition in the UK is necessary to “attract the kids”? Great. But you aren’t going to attract those kids to cricket. You are going to attract them to T20. In my view, it’s a bloody different sport! Kids won’t be playing test cricket, they will be seeing people smash balls over boundaries as the only measurable currency. This isn’t like baseball where pitchers are valued every bit as much as batsmen, but a game where the bat rules everything. Top quality test bowlers are rendered powerless by short boundaries, wickets made for runs, and a game that only seems to be “entertaining” if it is about peerless batting. The occasions when a bowler has been lauded from the rooftops for their performance? Tell me them.

T20 is a game with considerable skill, and I’m not diminishing that, but it isn’t about quality, it’s now about quantity. It is seen as the chance to make money by having another T20 competition that might secure some of the talent around the world. It is more and more being portrayed by the powers that be that it is the only way to secure the future of the game. A sort of gateway drug to the purity of test cricket. It’s nonsense. The Rugby Sevens aren’t taking over from test cricket. It’s almost a specialist sport in its own right. Five a side football is shorter, more accessible, the game we played as kids, yet it isn’t a thing in any way shape or form at the top level. Yet cricket is absolutely obsessed with changing its core characteristics, of what made it a sport that has lasted, in varying evolving forms for 140 years at least. A desperation to change, a desperation to seem relevant is taking us to a new unchartered territory. I think Empty Suit’s most relevant comment is this one…

“The balance between international and domestic cricket will change. We have to be careful about that and that is my fear about private ownership. Controlling private ownership will be difficult and controlling the ambition of very successful tournaments will be difficult.”The balance between international and domestic cricket will change. We have to be careful about that and that is my fear about private ownership. Controlling private ownership will be difficult and controlling the ambition of very successful tournaments will be difficult.”

Just read that and weep. This isn’t about developing future talent. It is about control. The ECB as our knight in shining armour, protecting English cricket from the marauding arms of the corporate raider is, quite frankly, rib-tickling in its chutzpah. So while we “watch the birdy” as Empty Suit prattles on about his conversion to four day test cricket, and that gets the headlines, what we are really looking at is a way for ECB to stop another body, like a Premier League, to go it alone and devil take the hindmost. The ECB, in all its generous cosy bosom, will cosset the cricket loving people of England and beyond in its tenderness. But if you disagree with that, you are bound to pay for it. That’s some stick for a puny carrot. The Premier League started off under the control of the Football Association – remember Graham Kelly and all that – before it spat that out and took on its own life. Now football is an oligarchy, a sport of totally entitled supporters, sacking managers who perform miracles to get teams into places, only to dismissed after a bit of a losing streak. It’s an out of control behemoth, in place to make money, more money and even more money.

Cricket has its own money issues. The top England players are on, conservatively, if the leak about Cook’s salary were correct, in the many hundreds of thousands. To pay these wages we need to make a ton of money. County teams also, we know, have players on salaries that are well above those that revenues can sustain. We know that the ECB has a war chest for seasons when India and Australia aren’t in town, but don’t seem to like using it (and if you might assume you could, ask Durham). The new T20, with these millions of TV viewers and punters waiting to follow the Big Bash model if only the ECB could come up with something, and the nonsense research put up to tell them what the want, and if it doesn’t, it’ll be spun that it is, is the only game in town. And there is no way anything is going to get in the way of it.

I still have some old fashioned, naive thoughts about sport being about people playing. It isn’t. Of course it’s not. It’s business. It has been for ages now. Childhood appreciation is a misguided construct. Cricket isn’t about that any more. It’s about a power grab. Trying to sell it any other way takes the punters for mugs. But they’ve been doing that for a while. There’s more on T20 to follow. But I for one am right behind our patrician authority, fighting the good fight against those corporate raiders! I never had Empty Suit as a modern day Arthur Scargill!

Have a good week everyone.

India v England – The 2nd T20 International

I hope Chris and Sean don’t mind but I thought I’d put down a few thoughts in advance of the match tomorrow. In fact, let me be honest. I’ve not checked if England are playing India tomorrow, but I’m assuming they are. It’s a weekend and we haven’t played yet. So assuming it’s on tomorrow. I think that’s some form of appointment to view, isn’t it?

It’s interesting how these fixtures are viewed. I saw many people say after a very routine England win on Wednesday – I think it was Wednesday, the days merge into an amorphous blob at the moment – that international cricket was no place for T20 cricket. I have to ask why? How is someone expected to be loyal to a club side where the only constant appears to be the shirts the team wears rather than the players that fill them. Of course the megastars are going to be tied to teams for a while because there’s brand identity and all that, but the so-called second tier players won’t be. Also, last week KP was playing for the Melbourne Stars, a couple of months ago for the Dolphins, next week for Quetta. Increasingly a T20 match is about being there at the time, because nothing really has context. Who, outside of a few loyal Western Australians, would care that Perth won the Big Bash. It’s a nice feeling now, but it isn’t something to sustain you in your dotage. Not really. It would be the equivalent of Premier League teams winning a cup competition in England, as today’s line-ups in the 4th round will show you;

The one place the sport has thrived in its own way is India. T20 has had a grip on the country, and yet I can’t tell you who won last year’s competition. As a Surrey fan it takes me 5 seconds to get over a T20 loss, 5 minutes to get over a ODI final loss, and yet I’ll be depressed if we lose a county championship game. I am reading Gideon Haigh’s set of essays on cricket from around of the turn of the decade – “Uncertain Corridors” it is called – and he’s dismissive of the launch of the Big Bash. He gets a fair bit wrong, of course he does because we aren’t seers, but his disdain for not letting the product speak for itself is one I shared. More of that in the future. Haigh is never short of brilliant, whether you agree with him or not, and I’d recommend any of his books that I’ve read so far.

The one place I think T20 can work is international cricket. The T20 World Cup is brilliant in part because it is, once the main teams are there, short. We can get into the rights and wrongs of the way the associate nations are treated, but as a competition of 10/12 teams, playing a set of group games, a semi-final and final, and having that done and dusted in 2-3 weeks is excellent. I don’t share the view over 50 over cricket either, and think there is a place for that as well. I’d like to see top players bat for more than an hour, thank you. I’d like to see top bowlers bowl more than 24 deliveries. T20 cricket if the same downsizing ratio is applied to football would mean a match lasting 9 minutes. You’d be pissed off if you had just that amount of time to appreciate a Messi or Ronaldo. I get no satisfaction in seeing a KP, a Kohli, a Root for short periods. But I know, I know.

But where international fixtures work is supposedly bringing a nation together. If you support a crap club team, you can still get behind your nation’s best players in an international environment. Why shouldn’t that work? One cack match in Kanpur and we’re saying it’s not worth it? I don’t care a jot about our Blast, our proposed T20 jamboree, the Ram Slam, the Big Bash, the PSL, the Caribbean thingamy, the Bangladeshi version… It gives me the only outlet to watch one of my favourite players, and that’s all I have to lean on. Haigh says that about watching Shane Warne play for the Stars back then – he’d watch him in a Christmas pantomime if he promised to bowl a flipper – and it’s true. It’s fluff unless there’s substance. International tournaments, proper ones, with history, are what it’s about. I remember Sandy Lyle, still the only Brit to win the Players Championship, being interviewed after he won it. The Players was the richest tournament. It had arguably the best field all year. It was the players own championship. It was the “5th Major”. When asked by the interviewer what the difference was between winning the Open and the Players, he remarked “about 100 years of history”.

The only way T20 can create that history is to build one based on something more than just transient, convenient cricket, where the result really doesn’t seem to matter. Franchise cricket where players come and go, and where there is no sense of kinship or importance other than your own performance to get hired elsewhere, isn’t a recipe for history or longevity. It’s performance art, not sport. International T20 has no chance when it is all about franchises, and instead there’s the collateral damage to international cricket. Watching the painful performances of Pakistan and Sri Lanka recently is a real warning sign. The problem isn’t the format. The problem is the level of cricket being played.

Oh well, here’s what is coming up. We have our anniversary week. I’ve written a lot on Downton’s article in The Cricketer, and hope to finish it off soon. I have to say I was really disappointed by the tone of the article. He was a disaster. Not even sure I like his modus operandi when you look in to some of his operations “outside cricket”. He was utterly awful. Here’s a little taster…

“At the end of the fifth test at The Oval I felt the side had made some real progress. Cook had come through a very difficult period as captain, when almost every commentator called for his resignation, to re-establish himself as the leader of an emerging England side.”

On the face of it, there’s not a lot to argue about here. Cook did indeed come through a very rough time, and England came back to win the series. Cook himself had not made a hundred. No-one really believed Cook’s captaincy was the determining factor in our come from behind win against India. Many believe his captaincy was the determining factor in our defeat to Sri Lanka. But Downton’s not going to mention that other than to say it was “painful to lose”. We all recognised Downton’s tactic. He nailed his colours to the Cook mast, and to quit on him after five minutes would have made him look even more stupid than he had already shown himself to be. He had no other tactic but to cross his fingers and pray the Indians packed it in. And they did. It may have turned on the early dropped chance at the Rose Bowl (or Ageas Bowl). It was no genius on his part, and he’s re-writing history.

Life is a little quieter. Mum in law is getting better, but not sure of the scale of the potential recovery. Wife still away and that’s really hard. Likely to be away for a while yet. Work hasn’t let up, and got a day out to Munich on Tuesday starting at 4am and likely to be finishing at 1 am the following day. Nice round trip. Aunt’s funeral is on Thursday. Loads to do and the blog does take a back seat. But I’ll try to do what I can.

Comments on the 2nd T20, whenever, wherever, it takes place (oh, it’s Nagpur) here. Sorry to say I won’t catch the first part because my football team is live on TV for the first time in a while, and Dmitri not as Old is coming round to watch with me. Have a good weekend, what remains of it, and see you soon!