How To Tell A Bad Idea In Cricket Without Actually Trying It First

The Australian Big Bash League have just announced three new rules which will feature in the competition due to start next month. These are ‘Power Surge’ [Two of the six powerplay overs must be taken after the halfway point by the batting team], ‘Bash Boost’ [Teams get a bonus point for being ahead after 10 overs] and ‘The X-Factor’ [Teams can substitute one player at the midway point of the first innings].

The announcement has been met with almost unaminous derision and disbelief from cricket fans, and quite a large proportion of the media too. The answer to that from its (relatively few) proponents is to watch it in action first. This strikes a nerve with me, because it’s the exact same answer people (almost exclusively employed by the ECB, Sky or the BBC) gave when faced with criticism of The Hundred. In the most extreme example, Isa Guha wrote that she felt people only had “the right to have a go” at The Hundred after it had been played for “4-5 years”.

There are three main ways in which this answer annoys me. The first is that it takes us as fans and customers for granted. There is absolutely nothing preventing us from spending our time and money on something else if we don’t like what we see. Second, I think most people can tell whether they like something or not very quickly. A bad first impression, such as from an ECB director going on national radio to tell people that the new cricket format isn’t for anyone listening, is a hard thing to overcome. A company ignores a significant negative visceral response from its consumer base at its peril. The third, and perhaps most important, is that its incredibly patronising. Few hearts and minds have been won by people implying that the people who are concerned must all be morons.

All of which begs the question: How can you tell a good idea from a bad one without spending tens of millions of pounds (or dollars) trying it in live televised games for a few years?

1) Is It Actually A New Idea?

One obvious way in which proposals can be judged is if they have actually been tried before. For people who were following cricket in 2005, the Big Bash League’s ‘X-Factor’ sounds remarkably similar to the ‘super sub’ idea which was briefly used in one-day internationals. That was abandoned within a few months after almost everyone involved agreed that it massively favoured the team who won the toss. It’s difficult to see how the BBL substitution rule won’t suffer the same fate, and it certainly hasn’t been explained by anyone from Cricket Australia.

Heeding lessons of the past need not be confined solely to cricket either. If we wanted to look at The Hundred’s reducing the number of cricket teams in England & Wales, we could compare it to the experience in Welsh Rugby from 2004. Nine clubs representing nine cities and towns were amalgamated into five (later four) regional teams. Despite undoubtedly producing a higher average quality of rugby, in terms of improving the finances or the number of supporters in Welsh rugby it has been a comprehensive failure.

2) Can You Make A Logical Argument In Its Favour?

In life, it’s generally a good rule of thumb that you probably don’t understand something very well if you can’t also explain it to someone else. Likewise, if you can’t clearly express why a change to the playing conditions of a tournament is an improvement then it probably isn’t.

It is a common theme that any explanations coming from the ECB or Cricket Australia on topics like these miss a vital step. They typically spell out what the problem they are trying to address is. They always say what they are doing. What they never do is link the two together in any kind of logical manner. Imagine that you went to a doctor with a splitting headache and they decided to put your ankle in plaster. That’s the level of logic that cricket boards seem to operate at.

When talking about the changes to this year’s BBL, the Big Bash’s player acquisition and cricket consultant Trent Woodhill said both, “Integrity [of the game] is about high performance and it’s about the contest between bat, ball and fielders.” and, “It happens in all other sports, coaches have a major say in the result. We want dialogue, we want discussion from broadcasters, as to why a coach or captain has made the decision they’ve made.” So the position of Cricket Australia appears to be that ‘bat, ball and fielders’ are the key to the integrity of the game, and that these new additions will make those aspects less important relative to the actions of the coaches and captains.

I’m certainly struggling to find a compelling argument for why Cricket Australia believe bonus points based on the scores after ten overs would be a good idea. If the team batting first scores 200-6 (Or, being in Australia, 6-200), their opponents are more likely to score an extra point if they are all out for 105 after eleven overs than they are scoring 199 from their allotted twenty overs. Why would you potentially reward losing by 95 runs more than losing by 1 run?

The ECB’s arguments in favour of The Hundred are even more egregious in this behaviour. To take just one example, one of the few snippets of the extensive research that the ECB have actually released to the public states that ‘75% of families would prefer a game that is under 3 hours in length and finished by 9pm’. That’s a fair enough point to make, but misses out two fairly obvious flaws. The first is that T20 Blast games already last under three hours (barring rain delays). Their own playing conditions state that games should last for 2 hour and 45 minutes. The second is that ten of the thirty-four games of the men’s Hundred scheduled this year were due to finish at 9.30pm because they could only start after Test matches against Pakistan had finished for the day. So, regarding the ECB’s own arguments for why The Hundred is needed as a format, the first part shows it to be unnecessary and the second part doesn’t apply to either competition.

3) Will It Still Work In An Imperfect World?

It’s very easy to make plans on paper which appear flawless but come apart very quickly in real life. To take a recent(ish) example, look at the 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup final. Even the most one-eyed England fan must admit that having the game and the overall winner decided by boundary countback was a little unsatisfying. The fact is that the tie-breakers were agreed by every cricket board involved, who almost certainly thought that there could never be a situation where both teams would be tied after the super over. It really helps to consider these scenarios before they happen, rather than complaining about them after the fact.

With cricket, whether in England or Australia, the most common issue competitions face is the weather. One shower of rain and everyone’s on their computers trying to work out the DLS scores and how to come out ahead in a shortened game. Ten games were rain-affected in last year’s Big Bash, so it is not something which should be overlooked. With that in mind, how well do Cricket Australia’s proposals handle rain delays and reductions in overs?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is not well.

The ‘Bash Boost’ bonus point for being ahead after ten overs becomes a nightmare if rain occurs at any point between the start of play and the midway point of the second innings. Imagine a game where Team A scored 80 runs in their first ten overs and batted for the full twenty before it rained for an hour during the mid-inning interval. Team B then face a DLS target of 120 from ten overs. How many runs do they need to win the bonus point, and after how many overs?

If the rain occurs during the first innings, it becomes more complex still. Let’s say that Team A scores 80 in the first innings in ten overs when it starts raining, leaving Team B to chase a DLS target of 70 from six overs. Is the target for Team B to beat based on what Team A managed to score in ten overs or five? I get a migraine just thinking about the complexity required to keep things even remotely fair to both teams with such a system in place.

4) Can You Hold A Trial First?

Even after you’ve cleared all of these hurdles, it must be worth playing a few trial games with the proposed rule changes to see how actual cricketers and fans feel about them. The Big Bash League are basically committed to these new rules for 61 games this winter. Almost two solid months. If Australian fans start whinging (and we all know that goes against their national character, but it could happen), then that’s a lot of unnecessary resentment and strife for the players, coaches and administrators to deal with. It also potentially risks tens of millions of dollars if cricket fans decide to stop watching altogether.

With so much at risk, surely it’s worth seeing how it plays in real life before committing so much money and effort? A week of games, with players trying several scenarios as well as full games. If everything goes well, they act as further promotion for the competition and new rules. If things go poorly, you have only lost thousands of dollars instead of millions.

In the ECB’s defense, something I rarely say, they did actually hold some trials of The Hundred in 2018. The general consensus appeared to be that it was very, very similar to T20. The problem there is that it was supposed to be to a distinct and entirely new format which would attract people who found T20 too long and boring. Trials don’t serve a purpose if you ignore the results, unfortunately.

5) Are You Being Honest About Your Motivations?

All of the above points assume that cricket boards are fundamentally truthful and open organisations whose statements can be taken at face value. Both Cricket Australia and the ECB talk about making cricket more exciting, more popular and more modern with their new formats. What neither mention in their press releases and interviews is a desire for cricket (or at least their portion of it) to become more profitable. With three new rules, each with their own branding, the proposed changes to the Big Bash give Cricket Australia at least three more opportunities per game to add extra sponsors, making the BBL more profitable. For the ECB, they seem annoyed at T20’s popularity around the globe because they think they invented it and deserve some licensing money from the global leagues. They genuinely believe that other countries will pay them for the rights to host competitions using The Hundred as a format, if it can be a success here.

Regardless of whether they are right or wrong (Spoiler: They are wrong), it seems at least some of these public relations issues are caused by their disingenuity. If Cricket Australia had said, “In the current circumstances, we need to make more money this season or risk further job cuts,” then people might have been more understanding about the whole thing and willing to give it a go for a season. Telling people who already enjoy cricket that these nonsensical rule changes will make cricket more fun, on the other hand, is a recipe for disaster.

I don’t consider myself a cricket traditionalist. To be honest I find the idea a little amusing when it comes to a format like T20 which has only been played professionally for eighteen years. There are many rule changes I would like to see, or at least try. But it doesn’t seem too much to ask that governing bodies try to think things through before putting the contents of their brainstorming session on national television.

Thanks for reading, if you have any comments about this post or anything else please add them below.

How Not To Market A Product

As The Hundred begins its marketing campaign for next season, it seems like a good time to talk about some incredibly basic things to consider when selling something. It seems like the ECB needs all the help it can get.

The most basic tenet of marketing, at least as far as I understand it, is to always consider your audience. This encapsulates two concepts: The audience you currently have, and the audience you want to attract.

For @TheHundred, the first demographic is very easy to define: English cricket fans. Before a ball has been bowled, or a game televised, the only people who will have any interest in an upcoming domestic cricket competition’s Twitter account are obviously people who already like the sport. They almost certainly follow the England cricket team, and are more likely than not to be familiar with county cricket too. They might be men or women, young or old, rich or poor, but they all have that in common.

Knowing that, the obvious approach would be to use @TheHundred Twitter account to promote the cricketers involved in the competition. “You like this player? You can see him next summer in The Hundred.” The people following the account will already know them, and you might persuade some of those followers who were on the fence about the whole thing to give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s not sexy, it won’t win you an award for innovative marketing, but it works.

One incredibly odd choice for The Hundred is when its tweets and posts give every impression of being dismissive or downright hostile towards county cricket and its fans. I struggle to think of any example where a company has attacked or insulted its own customers whilst promoting a new product. For example: Coca Cola owns both ‘Coke’ and ‘Innocent Drinks’ (or at least 90% of it). Innocent’s Twitter account has never said, “Coke is incredibly bad for your health. Drink Innocent’s smoothies instead!” Literally no responsible company would do that, ever.

But the England And Wales Cricket Board do.

The second group, the Twitter account’s presumed target audience, is the more interesting aspect of The Hundred’s marketing efforts so far. It has been stated repeatedly by its proponents that The Hundred is designed to reach people who might be discouraged by their impression of the T20 Blast as a competition for ‘lads’. To quote Simon Hughes: “A lot of people feeling the Blast is not a game for them because it’s largely middle class and largely white, and particularly a kind of beer-fest. […] It has become a piss-up, actually.

If you look at who responded to The Hundred’s Twitter relaunch positively, and there wasn’t that many, a clear pattern emerges: They are all youngish men aged roughly 25-40. No women, no British Asians, no kids. Just blokes who I would guess like a drink and some ‘bantz’. If The Hundred’s aim was to draw in a new diverse audience for English cricket, they appear to be failing badly.

This is not a surprise to me, although I suspect the same could not be said for many at the ECB. My impression is that children or even the under-25s rarely use Twitter. Instagram, TikTok and Twitch all seem to have a younger user base, and so might be better platforms for attracting schoolkids or young adults to cricket. I would hesitate to even speculate on the best way to draw British Asians into English domestic cricket, but it’s not immediately obvious that the ECB have tried anything beyond creating a franchise-style competition vaguely reminiscent of the IPL/PSL/BPL.

The worse misstep in the ECB’s marketing approach regards women. The tone of The Hundred’s Twitter output could be charitably described as ‘laddish’. The thing to remember about this kind of the behaviour is that it is generally how men act when in the company of other men. Women tend not to participate in it, nor find it appealing. This might be why the vast majority of internet trolls appear to be male. If you were promoting a new competition which proclaimed (falsely, in my opinion) to be based on the principle of gender equality, with both the men’s and women’s competitions inextricably linked, why would you choose to project such an obnoxious and exclusively male personality on social media?

The problem the ECB face is that this is not an isolated problem with regards to their promoting cricket outside of their core white male demographic. If you remember last year’s launch of The Hundred’s website, the stock photo used prominently on the front page was literally the top Google result for “male audience”. When Andrew Strauss first announced The Hundred on Radio Five Live, he implied that the reason more women weren’t cricket fans was because they weren’t able to understand the game. There are two things which these three events have in common. The first is that they all demonstrate a chronic inability to consider the ECB’s output from the perspective of a female audience, which leaves them struggling to connect with roughly half of the UK population. The second (and more damning) commonality is that each of them would have been thoroughly prepared over several months. None of them could be excused as mistakes made in haste. Every detail will have been pored over by virtually the entire PR/marketing/social media arm of the ECB, not to mention a few very well-paid executives, and no one appeared to notice any issues.

Being ‘Outside Cricket’, I must admit to having almost no knowledge of the ECB’s inner workings. That said, I would be utterly unsurprised if I were to discover that the people involved in these debacles were almost exclusively white men aged thirty and above. Particularly when it comes to the senior roles where decisions are made. Whilst perhaps not essential, having a diverse staff must surely help when it comes to attracting a diverse audience. Otherwise you risk seeming out of touch, patronising, and frankly a bit of a joke.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments about this, or anything else which came up during our extended break, please post them below.

The Hundred For Sale

Last week, a sports investment company sent a press release to every cricket journalist extolling the virtues of the ECB hiring them as consultants in order to facilitate investment in The Hundred. It was a pretty obvious advert being portrayed as an independent ‘report’ which I chose to completely ignore. Unfortunately, the cricket journalists themselves decided to pick up on it and the story has been gaining traction ever since. I think now that its fundamental flaws need addressing.

The mechanics of investment seem fairly simple. The investor buys a portion of a company, in exchange for which they may receive a some of that company’s revenue or profits. In addition, if that company gains in value then the investors can typically also sell their stake to someone else for more money than they paid. For the company selling the shares, they get a short term increase in money available to them without having to repay a bank loan. That extra money can allow the company to expand, or restructure themselves in order to become more profitable. If everything goes well, everyone wins.

There are two scenarios which I can see applying to private investment in The Hundred. The first is the wildly optimistic outcome where the new competition is a huge hit, filling stadia with fans and earning a massive TV deal from 2025 onwards. If that happens, the ECB will likely lose a lot of that profit to the private stakeholders which they could have otherwise kept and invested in English cricket.

The second, perhaps more likely scenario is that The Hundred stalls. Perhaps not a total failure, but the offered TV deal in 2025 is lower than expected and the ECB want to cut their losses and start again. The problem with that would be they would have given up some measure of control to the private investors in exchange for their money, and so they might not be able to do so unilaterally. What should be a simple process instead becomes a complex and expensive negotiation involving lawyers and all sorts.

So it would be fair to say that I think this kind of outside investment will financially harm English cricket in the medium to long term, one way or the other. It has been suggested that the ECB might not have any choice in the matter due to their own current lack of funds. This is, I think, hyperbole.

Regardless of what happens this season, the ECB will still receive £220m in 2021 from Sky. I believe that is more than the television, ticket and membership revenue of all English cricket combined in 2019. It’s not currently clear exactly how much the ECB will be getting this year, except that it won’t be the full amount due to the postponement of The Hundred, but even then it is likely to be more than last year if the England men’s team play most of their scheduled games. So long as counties are sensible with their finances, and readjust their plans to the new situation, there shouldn’t be any threat to their existence.

In conclusion, I believe welcoming investment into The Hundred (or really any other aspect of English cricket) is a mistake which should be avoided. Things aren’t as bad as many people seem to fear (at least in the professional game), and so now is certainly not the time for panicked decisions or short term fixes.

Feel free to comment below.

Why The Hundred Must Be The ECB’s Priority This Season

No one could confuse me for being an advocate for The Hundred, nor a fan of either its concept or execution by the ECB. I have written posts here about its lack of simplicity, its patronising marketing towards women, its sycophantic press coverage, the ‘research’ which allegedly led to its creation, the ECB’s own justifications for its creation, the dumb team names, and the huge gender inequality inherent in the new competition. I have even written a Dr. Seuss parody about it. Last but by no means least, I have written a post with a hundred reasons why I think it’s a bad idea (Spoiler alert: I am also 82% through writing a second post with a hundred more reasons, although many of these may have become redundant based on current events). All told, I’ve written well over 25,000 words here on the subject. None of them complimentary.

Which is why it may surprise some of you to discover that I genuinely think The Hundred must be the ECB’s first priority when (or if) domestic cricket returns this year.

I’m no more a fan of it now than I have been before. Its a bad idea, made worse by the people running it. The rationale for it is flawed, and it risks alienating cricket’s loyal customers in order to attract new people. And I don’t even like any of the crisps. But none of that matters now. In light of cricket being essentially closed at the start of the season, there are two basic reasons why I think it should be the first domestic competition to return.

The first reason is that the competition format is literally made for television, which is important because it seems possible that people won’t be able to attend games in the near future. The main reason counties want T20 Blast games is their profitability, but a large portion of that money comes from attracting fans to the grounds. If large gatherings are banned (and the average T20 Blast crowd last year was over 7,000), then I think it might quickly become expensive for the counties.

The Blast’s format is basically designed to have as many games in as short as a period as possible in order to maximise attendance, with 126 group games played over 44 days. Sky Sports Cricket can typically only show 2 matches per day, and that includes the international cricket which will be almost certainly be happening in the same window. Without serious changes, such as a dramatic reduction in the number of games coupled with an increase in the competition’s duration, it seems likely that county cricket fans would only be able to watch around a third of the competition at all.

The Hundred, on the other hand, has 32 group games scheduled over 28 days. Ideal for Sky to fit around a Test series (which most of us will hopefully be watching), as was the original plan for this year anyway. If the women’s games were all made double-headers with the men’s, as the rationale that women’s cricket wouldn’t attract large enough attendances to be sustainable seems pointless if there are literally no fans present anyway, Sky might even be able to show all of them too. And that’s before we consider the BBC, who have the rights to show 10 men’s games and 8 from the women’s competition. With no Wimbledon, Olympics or European Championships this year, The Hundred might be the most high-profilelive sports they have this summer.

It may be possible that the English cricket season starts early enough to play both the T20 Blast and The Hundred, but even in that situation I would have The Hundred go first. The later the Blast is scheduled, in my mind, the more chance there is that people will be allowed to go to the grounds.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is money. It’s been that the ECB is concerned that “Sky Sports will withhold part of this year’s £220million television contract if [The Hundred] is postponed“. If people can’t attend the games, then that is already a huge amount of money lost from English cricket in terms of gate receipts and beer snake ammunition. Other revenue, such as sponsorships, might also be affected. This is not a time when we can afford to be picky about where the money to fund English cricket is coming from, or what it is paying for.

This crisis could hardly have come at a worse time financially for English cricket. The £220m Sky TV deal meant that everyone blew through their 2019 reserves with the secure knowledge that a huge pay cheque was waiting for them this season. The ECB’s funds got to such a low point that they couldn’t even afford to pay their white ball international contracts for four months. The players received generous pay rises going in to this season, as (I would guess) did the coaches and many other staff behind the scenes at the counties and ECB. This means that English cricket is now more expensive to run than ever before, and needs as much money as possible to continue as it is now.

That £220m wasn’t a gift from Sky, but a payment for the ECB and counties providing cricket games for them to air. Specifically international cricket, the T20 Blast and The Hundred. If the ECB fails to deliver all of those competitions, then Sky would presumably be well within their rights to withold their next payment. They might even be be able cancel the contract altogether, and that could be a real disaster. With Sky Sports and BT both having lost subscribers during this sporting hiatus, it seems very unlikely that the TV rights for English cricket from 2021 would be worth anywhere near as much to them as the current deal offers.

Will The Hundred be any good? With few overseas players and likely no crowds, I wouldn’t have thought so. And, like I wrote at the start, I can think of plenty of reasons why it was going to suck even before all this happened. That said, people might be sufficiently starved of live sport by the point it starts not to care about such things.

In summary: I think the ECB should prioritise The Hundred, and it should be the first domestic competition to take place this year.

And no, this is not an April Fool.

“Makes sense doesn’t it!” – The ECB, The Hundred, And Women’s Cricket

Today, as almost ninety thousand cricket fans crammed into the MCG and millions of TV viewers around the world watched the Women’s T20 World Cup final, seems an excellent opportunity to look at the status of women’s cricket here in England. The perception seems to be that we are making good progress towards a professional and popular women’s game. And, relative to some countries, we are. But there have been numerous opportunities squandered, a multitude of promises unfulfilled, and far too many empty platitudes.

Personally, I’ve found it frustrating that England has seemed to lag behind Australia in developing women’s cricket recently. England awarded the first full time central contracts in 2014, followed by Australia in 2015. Other than that, Australia have really taken the lead in the women’s game. Cricket Australia started the Women’s Big Bash League in 2015, followed by the ECB’s Kia Super League in 2016. When Australia’s domestic competition went fully professional in 2017, I naturally waited for the ECB to follow suit soon after. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, in 2019, the ECB finally seemed to come through on the next logical step for women’s cricket when the PCA announced that 100 new professional domestic cricketers would be created in 2020. It was included in the ‘Heads Of Agreement’ which detailed exactly what pay and other considerations professional players and the PCA could expect for the duration of the new £220m per year Sky TV deal. Meanwhile, people from the ECB were saying that there would be eight full time teams, based in the same cities as The Hundred, where these new professional players would play throughout the summer.

The creation of a professional domestic structure is absolutely key for the future of women’s cricket in England. It should provide a high standard of competition, which improves the ability to develop players for international cricket and also makes the  game more entertaining for potential supporters. In the best case scenario, if you build women’s cricket up like Cricket Australia have with the Women’s Big Bash League, you can even reach a point where women’s cricket is profitable rather than something subsidised by men’s cricket. Which is, frankly, more than men’s county cricket seems to manage.

Recent developments seem to suggest that we are a long way from the ECB committing to this kind of growth. First, the ECB reduced the number of new full time contracts from 100 to 40. Now, around 5 weeks before the English cricket season begins, we haven’t heard a single thing about any of these new players being signed or even the teams they’re supposed to play for. I’m starting to think that the ECB may have abandoned even these modest goals.

The reduction from 100 to 40 professional crickets is incredibly important for two main reasons. Firstly, it massively restricts the opportunities for women to make a career playing cricket. Australia’s star player, Ellyse Perry, had the option of either football or cricket as a career and chose cricket because there were more opportunities and higher wages in Australia. If she was English, it seems very likely that she would have become a footballer instead. Other prospective cricketers will have left the sport because they will have had to choose their full time job over cricket, because training and playing cricket in your free time in the hopes of gaining a rare full time contract just isn’t financially realistic for many people.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is that a reduction to 40 new full time cricketers reduces The Hundred and the new 8-team domestic competitions (if they arrive) to semi-professional status. It’s simple arithmetic. If there are 21 cricketers with England central contracts, the 40 new domestic players and 24 overseas draft picks, that equals 85 total professionals.  There are 8 teams in The Hundred with a squad of 15 each, meaning that there is a total of 120 players. So at least 35 squad members in The Hundred this year will be amateurs. Club cricketers. A far cry from the rhetoric about it being an elite competition.

The reduction also acts as a reminder to all of us (not that anyone here needs reminding) that the ECB are not to be trusted, nor should their promises be believed. In another related example, England’s women cricketers were reportedly told that their pay brackets in The Hundred would range from £50,000 to £15,000. When the final figures were announced, it was actually from £15,000 to £3,000. Quite a difference.

I almost don’t blame the ECB for constantly lying and cheating though, because everyone else seems to just let them get away with it. The press don’t seem to care enough to write about it. The counties can’t even collectively act in their own interests, so the idea that they might somehow get their act together to help women’s cricket is almost laughable. The most disappointing to me is the PCA, who are supposed to represent and  protect these women cricketers from abuse and deceit by their employers. Not for the first time, the PCA’s response appears to be silence and inaction.

But most of this isn’t new. Whilst I’ve been angry about this consistent failure by the ECB to build up women’s cricket in England, the thing which really spurred me to write my first blog post in about six weeks was a couple of smug, arrogant and incredibly misleading tweets by the new “@TheHundred” Twitter account.

 

#EachForEqual is the official theme and hashtag for this year’s International Women’s Day (which is today). It is meant to represent support for “the gender equal boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, [and] more gender equality in health and wealth.” So let’s examine how the ECB are doing on these aspirations which they are publicly supporting.

Gender equal boardroom – 4 out of 12 on the ECB board. There’s just one woman acting as a representative for the 40 counties and the MCC who elect the chairman and approve the board, I believe.

Gender equal media coverage – The ECB are always at pains to say that the men’s and women’s competitions are inextricably linked, and that both will gain signficant exposure. In the real world, Sky are committed to showing all 34 men’s games and just 11 women’s games whilst the BBC seem likely to air only the final. To put this into context: Sky showed 12 Kia Super League games in 2019, which means that the total coverage of women’s cricket by Sky will actually decrease this year.

Gender equal sports coverage – In The Hundred, the men will play 34 games at 8 grounds. All televised, all in big cities. The women, on the other hand, will play 30 games at 20 grounds, mostly in small towns and mostly not on television (and quite possibly not even streamed or with radio commentary).

Equality in wealth – Even including the £300,000 team bonus for winning, which is the same in both competitions, the average wage in The Hundred for a woman is around £60,000 less than for a man.

In other words, they’re achieving none of it. I don’t think they’re even working towards it. It’s just a meaningless hashtag and phrase.

The huge new TV deal and The Hundred were supposed to usher in a new era for women’s cricket in England. Whilst the press release platitudes and slick social media marketing still proclaim that to be true, the reality is far different. No amount of flashy videos, hashtags or other nonsense should distract us all from the fact that the ECB is absolutely screwing up the women’s cricket. Somehow even worse than they’ve done to the men’s game.

And the most frustrating thing to me is that hardly anyone seems to care.

The Graves Who Stole Cricket

Graves1

Every fan down in Taunton liked cricket a lot.
But Graves, who lived in the cave above Taunton, did not!

Now Graves hated cricket! The whole cricket season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, that his ties were too tight.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

Or that he couldn’t fathom something you couldn’t buy in a store.
That cricket, perhaps, meant just a little bit more.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his ties,
The fans of cricket were who he did truly despise.

Staring down from his cave with a sour, Gravesy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town,

For he knew every fan down in Taunton below
Had a cricket game coming to which they planned to go.

“And they’re happy and joyful,” he snarled with a sneer.
“Tomorrow is cricket! It’s practically here!”

Then he growled, with his Graves fingers nervously drumming,
“I must find some way to keep cricket from coming!

For, tomorrow, I know, the fans all around,
Will wake bright and early. They’ll rush to their ground!

And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

They’ll sit close together, in tens and in twelves.
They’ll sit in the stands, enjoying themselves!”

And the more the Graves thought of this cricket fan crowd,
The more the Graves thought, “This can’t be allowed!

Why, for seventy-one years I’ve put up with it now!
I must stop cricket from coming! But how?”

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!
The Graves got a wonderful, awful idea!

“I know just what to do!” The Graves said with a hoot.
“I’ll just make a quick ECB tie and a suit.”

So he went to the ground, suitably dressed,
And the foolish cricket bigwigs were very impressed.

Graves said , “There are people who aren’t yet cricket fans,
And to convince them, I have some very cunning plans.

The problem, you see, is that cricket’s too long.
You’ve been playing for centuries, but doing it wrong!

The people think that too much cricket is played.
So the less you play cricket, the more you’ll be paid!”

So Graves sold his idea. Lesscricket, he called it.
And he explained to the bigwigs how they all could afford it.

“There’s less balls, less games, less teams and less players!
But more money!”, Graves added, to answer their prayers.

For the cricket bigwigs all had the same small, slight flaw.
Whatever they had, they still wanted more.

They wanted their hands on all they could get,
Including the bank’s money, so they were all in huge debt.

Graves promised them riches, he promised them cash,
And so the bigwigs did something quite rash.

They gave Graves their key to the players’ room,
Not knowing that Graves meant to cause them their doom.

Graves snuck in to the ground later that night,
With his Gravesy bag and his Gravesy light.

He saw all the Taunton players, all in a row.
“These players,” he gravesed, “are the first things to go!”

Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took everyone present!

It was quarter of dawn. All the fans still a-dream,
All the fans still a-snooze, when he packed up their team.

He went everywhere that night, to Hove and to Kent,
Taking all of the players from wherever he went.

Graves stroked his chin, he was lost deep in thought.
“Where can I hide all of these players I’ve caught?

Perhaps where there are no fans of cricket?
That would be the perfect place to stick it.

No cricket fans to make their horrible noise,
No happy children, no girls and no boys.”

So Graves took them all to Cardiff in Wales,
And he told all the players some incredible tales.

Graves told them, “Ignore the empty stands,
You’ll all make more money without those pesky fans!”

Graves laughed as he returned to the scene of his crime,
As the fans down in Taunton reached waking-up time.

“Pooh-pooh to the fans!” he was gravesily humming.
“They’re finding out now that no cricket is coming!

They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
Then the fans down in Taunton will all cry boo-hoo!

That’s a noise,” grinned the Graves, “that I simply must hear!”
He paused, and the Graves put a hand to his ear.

And he did hear a sound rising over the hills.
It started in low, but was giving him chills.

But this sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded mad!

Every fan down in Taunton, the tall and the small,
Still somehow liked cricket without players at all!

They were angry, and upset, and looking to blame,
The person responsible for taking their game!

He hadn’t stopped cricket from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

The fans all gathered, in their clubs and their porches,
Then went looking for Graves with pitchforks and torches.

Graves, being clever, turned tail and ran,
And he hid in his cave, as only Graves can.

This really wasn’t going the way that he’d plotted.
Graves was really quite sad until something he spotted.

The children in Taunton weren’t playing cricket at all.
They looked puzzled if you gave them a bat and a ball.

With no team to love, no players even near,
Those kids would be fans of something else this year.

Perhaps tennis, or rugby, or hockey, or netball,
But cricket won’t enter their young minds at all.

“Eventually there will be no new fans of cricket,” Graves foresaw,
“The few fans left, I can easily ignore!”

The Graves was so happy. He had cheated and lied,
And now got to watch as cricket slowly died.

His grin was enormous, and some people say,
That his heart grew three sizes that day.

For cricket’s demise filled Graves with great joy,
As he started to think what was next to destroy.

The moral, dear children, is to guard what you hold dear,
And don’t believe all the promises you hear.

Because every single person in an ECB suit and tie,
If their lips are moving, is telling a lie.

 

Merry Christmas from Dmitri, Chris, Sean and myself!

Is It Down To The Lake I Fear?

The third T20 international is tonight, I think….. This post doesn’t really want to talk about it, but I suppose I must. It’s being held in Nelson. Ironic. Our cricket board is most definitely one-eyed, the sport plays with one arm tied behind its back (I know, I know, he lost his arm), and for all they care about the punters, the ECB would stick us up on top of a 50m column and tell us to obsess about watching our 2nd XI in the middle of summer play for half points. For the record, I think it is a daft idea.

Admit it, you are hooked, aren’t you? You’ve stayed up these long Autumnal nights to watch the enthralling T20 series between England and New Zealand. The two games, played with two teams at ultimate full strength, battling it out is everything cricket should be. Played to packed houses, and enraptured crowds, it’s the ultimate in cricket entertainment. Indeed, Matthew Hayden himself tried to copyright Cricktainment (or something like that) and I’ll bet he had the games at Hagley and the Cake Tin in mind.

There’s a World Cup next year, and I’ll bet it’s inked in on Harry Gurney’s calendar. The only hope, of course, is that it doesn’t clash with a Sunday fixture or two (unlikely as it starts in October, but it might clash with the County Championship) as we’ll be too busy letting down the bouncy castle, putting away the sound system, and clearing up the litter from the barbecue. That this World Cup is still pretty much a year away renders a five game T20 series rather meaningless, but there’s money to be made, and that always takes priority. Maybe the doyen of the Hundred, Don Topley, can explain why this format, being played five times, is a great use of our international time. He seems to love all this sort of stuff. While we are battling it out with the Black Caps, India and Bangladesh are trying to get rid of the stench of match-fixing that accompanied Shakib-al-Hasan’s ban, and the smog of Delhi in their own T20 drama, and David Warner is teeing off on Sri Lanka, because they don’t have Stuart Broad in a T20 series that passed all of us by, save for Glen Maxwell falling off the treadmill with another canary in the goldmine moment for the international game. In the top echelon of international cricket, there’s not a lot to love at the moment.

As Chris said in his piece last week, we are all in that time of the year when work can cause us to let the blog slip, there’s a paucity of England test cricket which we know is what gets the punters interested here, and the motivation to do those sort of long think pieces that get the tweets and retweets which feel very rewarding, is languishing. There is no shortage of ECB nonsense to bash, as always, but I feel as though it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel at the moment. When I was on the KP treadmill a few years back, some absolute dickhead from the Guardian BTL commented that I had it in for the ECB, and that it would be hard to read my stuff through the bile on screen. That useful idiot may have indelibly entered himself, and it was a him, into my Book Of Bastards, but there is a point, perhaps, now. I was slagging off the ECB when it wasn’t fashionable, when the media thought I was an unhinged idiot, when some of the people out there thought I was a Piers Morgan stooge. Now everyone seems to be doing it over the Hundred, my contrary nature makes me want to defend them. Yes, seriously. It’s really nice of the punditocracy to finally see it my way – that the ECB are impervious to criticism, they leak like the Titanic after iceberg encounter, that they are so self-assured they make the ERG look diffident (only political point on this post) and in Tom Harrison and Colin Graves, they have the most worrying duo at the steering wheel since Oliver Reed and George Best.

So let’s start defending the ECB. Let’s start with their sterling defence of the Hundred, and the encouragement to you all to get on board with the show. After an auction that underwhelmed and produced teams that look marginally stronger than some of the best Blast outfits, it was time to get the fans behind their local team. Let’s have a little pep piece to get the blood coursing through the veins, the credit card number itching to be conveyed online for those tickets, the calendar purchased just to put next year’s home Oval fixtures in to make sure the beloved doesn’t book a holiday that would prevent her going. One for each of the eight inspirational franchises here to shake up domestic cricket, with a new format, new TV coverage and new everything. How can you resist. Let’s start with the team selected to be the one I am supposed to support. Previously the Oval Greats, we went from Great to Invincible. Come On! Inspire me.

“Belong to something bigger, with Oval Invincibles. Vibrant, expressive, and free to play their own way, this team leaves a lasting impression long after the last ball.”

“Belong to something bigger”. Fuck me. They know inspiration. What is this, Extinction Rebellion? One Direction Fan Club? GBBO?

Something bigger? Bigger than what? The home venue has a county cricket club that outside of the North, has won more titles than anyone else. That has supplied numerous England players. That plays in a venue that gets filled for nearly all Blast games even though the team has been rubbish. What is this nonsense bigger than?

The best way to judge these pithy statements is to use Antonyms. “Apathetic, lifeless and bound to play by rigid rule and rote, this collection of individuals are instantly forgettable.” Yeah. That sounds better.

Hey. We can watch Sunil Narine ping it. We can watch the Curran brothers in a different shirts. We can long for Blake and Billings to bring that Kent magic. And we can wonder that in a tournament that is going to capture the imagination, their own site couldn’t capture a picture of a man who made an amazing century in the World Cup held in this country. I suppose they were too busy watching Rihanna.

https://www.thehundred.com/teams/oval-invincibles/squad

Let’s look at our natural rivals, the London Spirit. I mean the name just jumps out at you, with the only spirit normally seen at the fake Home of Cricket being too expensive for you mere plebs to purchase.

London Spirit is an iconic team for an iconic city, rooted in tradition and lighting the way to the future, with a unique ability to conjure something special.

Woah! Iconic team. When you wrote this garbage down you didn’t even know who was playing for you, outside your iconic test player, Rory Burns, who probably won’t be playing and is only there because Middlesex can’t produce anyone with charisma who is in our test team these days.

What’s with the rooted in tradition? I thought tradition was a bad word? I thought it was something that we are to put our noses up to, and throw caution to the wind. Oh, you mean rooted in a private members club, so up its own backside that the head is tickling the Adam’s Apple.

Lighting the way to the future? Do they have the local St John’s Wood neighbourhood on board for this? They are notoriously not chuffed at lights or anything at Lord’s. What does this mean anyway. What are they lighting? Themselves? The Hundred? What does this mean.

Uh-Oh. UNIQUE! I hate that word. Utterly despise it. You are one of eight built for an event franchises. You are about as un-unique as you can be. A sausage machine cricket team, for a butchery of a competition. They have the “ability to conjure something special”. Have they reincarnated Paul Daniels. Put David Blaine in at pinch-hitter? Challenged Derren Brown to count down from a hundred. This is not going well.

We must head south. To Bransgrove World, where relegations are avoided, Ashes tests not awarded, and a franchise is gifted. To the Brave People of the South…

Follow Southern Brave, and go boldly where others shy away. Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure, what’s over the horizon?

Go boldly to a field somewhere outside Southampton, where others, most notably public bloody transport shy away. Who are these bold people they are seeking? People who want to go to cricket out in the wilds, and not get home until midnight? Go boldly to a hotel attached to a cricket ground, to watch David Warner and Andre Russell (how have they not got a picture of David Warner to append to the generic body…) ply their trade, and in the case of the former, not cause ructions and the latter not fail a drug test.

The next part of this blurb is wonderful “Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure” reads like something in a singles column, apparently. Endlessly curious means you want to sleep with your friend’s best mate, while insatiable appetite for adventure means kicked out of every home they’ve been in. I have absolutely no idea what is over the horizon other than the M26, which is beyond that queue out of the car park.

The logo is absolutely appalling. It makes my eyes go funny.

https://www.thehundred.com/teams/southern-brave/squad

As the Village People once sang, and was covered by both the Pet Shop Boys, and Arsenal fans when winning the Cup Winners Cup Final, it is time to Go West. This time, bypassing two successful limited over counties of the recent and middle past, to a test venue, which was usually notable for being mostly empty unless we played Australia there. It is, the Welsh Fire.

Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.

Keith Flint, god rest his soul, has missed an opening. This collection of words, assembled with no thought or comprehension, sums up this exercise beautifully. We are given to believe our beloved Welsh colleagues are full of passion and excitement, but we are already going on about people hating them. As a colleague of mine noted when seeing the team, are the haters the public in Wales?

Cardiff is not exactly known for sultry weather, so heat might be a problem. The relentless energy will be needed to persuade the counties overlooked in favour of them as a host venue to trek across the Severn, all mums and kids together, and watch a team who already think that No-One Like Them, and they evidently care because they want to prove them wrong. What are they trying to prove wrong? They shouldn’t get a franchise? Danny shouldn’t be mean to them? That they should not be given test cricket? That they haven’t a man of Wales in their team? What’s with the defeatist surly attitude. You looking at teenage kids to come along and fit the concept?

Steve Smith, Mitchell Star and Ryan ten Doeschate star, with YJB bringing the fire when he’s not playing for England, which he might not. They’ll be hula hooping in the valleys at this.

Having seen and looked a team about as Welsh as Pat van den Hauwe (one for you old football fans out there), it’s time to cross Offa’s Dyke, ramble north east, to England’s second city (and Manchester still thinks it’s the first) to Birmingham, where Edgbaston will host the Birmingham, checks website, Phoenix. Is Brian Potter the MD?

Rise with Birmingham Phoenix, and thrive together as one. Bigger, brighter and better united, this team is a celebration of the strength in diversity. Because different is good.

phoenix (/ˈfiːnɪks/; Ancient Greek: φοῖνιξ, phoînix) is a long-lived bird that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

Interesting concept and the Birmingham Bears must be really thrilled to hear this concept, let alone what it says about Warwickshire County Cricket Club. Rise with the dead bird, and thrive together as one. As inspirational statements go, this isn’t exactly we’ll fight them in the bull ring, massacre them on the M42, Vanquish them at the Villa.

Bigger, brighter and better united – you what? What is this random collection of words strung together. Bigger than what. It’s a dead bird coming back larger than before (no sexist jokes about bad nights out please). Brighter than what? I have no idea, and I hope you don’t either. Oh, it’s being united that makes you these things? Oh, I get you. Because when I think of the Hundred, a united force is just the first thing that trips into mind.

Celebration in diversity, different is good. This is cricket, not a office training course paying lip service to equal opportunities. It’s the usual mix of Aussies, Pakistanis, local talent and Ravi Bopara. You’d be forgiven for being uninspired, but nothing says raging fires, ashes arisen from, being united and better, than having Butterkist on your shirt. I must away…up the M6 to England’s fifth city, Manchester, and the marketing genius that is the Manchester Originals.

Manchester Originals. Pioneers. Revolutionaries. Celebrating a global city of firsts. Laughing in the face of limits. Raising the bar forever higher.

First up, Manchester has a logo that quite frankly, the designer of should be sacked for. It’s a squiggle in a circle. Like a bad art project. It exists to make the blurb look somewhat reasonable. Although it isn’t.

Pioneers. Of what, when? Two hundred years ago? Failing to be big enough to win the Olympics until a proper city won it for the UK. Host of two mega-dull football empires. When did Manchester last have a revolution? Peterloo? 1815? Good grief. This is a cricket team in a mickey mouse format, not Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela. A global city of firsts, but hardly in London’s league, eh? And Liverpool must be thrilled.

But the next bit is beautiful “laughing in the face of limits”. You are called the Originals. It’s about as revolutionary and limiting as the packet of sweets we suspect you were named after. What have you got to laugh at, anyway? It’s cold. The weather is miserable. Your football clubs are either American asset stripper’s cash cow, or a sportwashing Middle Eastern plaything (don’t call it a sovereign wealth fund) with all the soul stripped out of it. Your music scene has been dead on arrival for decades. Last time I went there, it took you a mile to cross the road because there was a whacking great tunnel being dug in the middle of it.

Raising the bar forever higher. Tell that to United fans. They must love this bar, what with Thursday night European adventures and mid-table anonymity. Forever is a bloody long time.

I think it’s time we got out of Manchester and headed east over the Pennines to the real Northern Powerhouse. Yorkshire. Except a brand like Yorkshire ain’t going to mean a thing to the mums and kids. It’s going to be Northern

Step aside for Northern Superchargers, a team whose drive and determination is matched only by their desire to win. Powered by positivity and people who get stuff done when every ball counts.

Except the badge makes it look like they are Super northern Chargers. Another logo made in a focus group and with all the natural appeal of a scaffolding outside your house.

In this world of meaningless claptrap, this might just be the most insipid. It’s about as edgy as a Steve Smith masterclass on an Aussie road. It’s about as uplifting as a funeral march. It’s about as energetic as me at 7am. Step aside for someone with drive and determination. Jesus wept. Is this a cricket competition or an episode of the Apprentice?

You’ll be pleased to know, Northerners (for me that description starts at Tower Bridge) will be no doubt reassured that they have a desire to win that matches their determination, and that, quite unlike a team in Yorkshire, they’ll be powered by positivity and people who get stuff done. I presume Colin Graves is describing himself here. No mediocrity up North. I mean, it’s not as if Yorkshire, I mean Northern, have ever had a reputation for arguing the toss, sticking to the point and open minded.

Every ball counts. Sounds like a game show. A supercharged Northern Game Show. A bit like 3-2-1 for all you old timers out there. Instead of Ted Rogers, you’ll be getting the usual T20 Aussies, a little bit of local flavour, a relocated Ben Foakes, and other Kolpaks and Adil Rashid. It says less Supercharger, and more an overcharger. They couldn’t call it Leeds, they couldn’t call it Yorkshire, but they are called Northern. And not only that, they are brought to you by Popchips. Popchips. POPCHIPS.

What the hell is a Supercharger anyway? I’m hooking my wagon down the M1 and pronto, in a flash. Or like a rocket. To the Trent Rockets. What’s more inspiring than naming yourself after a river?

Join Trent Rockets for the biggest party in the country. Everyone’s invited – so long as you don’t mind having the most fun. Volume up, ready for launch.

The biggest party in the country. Please god. Life is waning in me reading this. What the hell does this even mean. Everyone’s invited brings me neatly to the attitude the ECB have shown to everyone who may actually be supporting the game now. This isn’t for you. You aren’t the people we are aiming at. You are obsessives. You are obstructive. You are resistant to change (nice one that from Vaughan). Gurney thinks we are irrelevant, because we have fewer Twitter followers than him. This isn’t for county fans, they can remain the oddballs. This is for Mum and Kids (c). This is for players to earn more money, commentators to have more gainful employment, the BBC to get a fig leaf of cricket on the TV. Volume up. Ready for Launch. Kill the counties. Extract six weeks peak cricket season for a party no-one seems to really want.

You can come as long as you don’t mind having their version of fun. That’s the ECB and the Hundred in a nutshell. A bloody nutshell. YOU WILL ENJOY IT.

The ultimate in sport brings you a team with Harry Gurney, the poster child of fan alienation and arrogant dismissiveness to the people who, yes, pay his wages. It brings you world superstar Darcy Short, who definitely isn’t Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma. It brings you non-playing Joe Root, who seems desperate for the additional cash, because being England captain doesn’t pay enough. It brings you Luke Fletcher, a worthy pro, Alex Hales, an exile and rebel, and Rashid Khan who you could have seen playing for Sussex, but it isn’t sexy enough. It’s the biggest party in town, you will have fun, and it’s brought to you by Skips crisps. I mean, really. This is the brave new world?

So no, ECB. This isn’t a bright future. This isn’t an exciting launch. It’s distilling the talent down a little, to bring you a competition that there seems little demand for, just to satisfy your egos. So while it would be nice to be contrary, and maybe even stick up for these cretins, one read of the eight teams’ overviews, these mantras of the morons, these invocations of the insipid, this ocean going mediocrity of management buzz phrases parading as inspirational missives to the massive, has you gouging out your eyes and wondering. What the hell do they think they are up to?

My apologies for ignoring the Women’s Hundred, although their players are included in the squads on the website – which confusingly makes it look like it is a mixed gender team competition – because the act of vandalism on their game is even worse.

Someone stop these people. They are mad. They have overdosed on Blue Smarties. They are drunk on their own power, high on their own supply of conceived brilliance. Only they know how to save us. Only they know what is best. The ECB will bring us all to the promised land and…

YOU WILL ENJOY IT.

Count me out.

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It’s been a bit of a strange time over the last month or so – the conclusion of the domestic cricket season caused a fair bit of retrospective comment about how successful the summer had been – the World Cup victory being the clear stand out, with the scraped draw in the Ashes being recast as something of a success by too many people who ought to know better.

Much of the recent cricketing action in this country has been off the field – the ongoing Hundred debacle most central to that, including the hearing at the DCMS committee. It’s particularly notable the way the ECB have pushed their entire tournament to the media has shifted slightly, almost a tacit admission of the horrendous balls up they’ve made of it to date, while at the same time continuing to block any direct questioning, even by MPs. Yesterday Ashley Giles talked about the Hundred being played alongside the County Championship, raising a fair few issues in the process.  Giles has tended to be rather more thoughtful and honest than most in the ECB, and while that’s not saying a lot, if ever anyone was going to acknowledge, even obliquely, the problems raised, it was always likely to be him.  The ECB have decided that the domestic professional game will go in a certain direction, and the consequences of that are more or less impossible to avoid – as such this is perhaps the first time anyone has even publicly considered how to mitigate them.

The main problem with the Hundred has never been the format itself – it might have attracted scorn and derision, and deservedly so, but it remains a short game of cricket, even if the added funkiness does little to further it.  The impact on the rest of the season however is far more pertinent and permanent – even were the Hundred itself to fail and be turned back into T20, as some hope, it wouldn’t alter the general balance of the season the ECB have determined.

The initial response to Ashley Giles’ comments about running the Championship concurrently is interesting, partly because it’s been almost universally negative. So perhaps it’s time to challenge that somewhat, albeit a rather lukewarm challenge and a thought experiment as much as anything. But it could be argued that given where we are now it’s as good an idea as is practicable. The impact on Test techniques of short form cricket has been a concern for a while but there has also been some divergence, especially in batting and spin bowling, between those players who prioritise white ball cricket and those who aim to be long form players.

There is always the balance to be struck between insisting on purity in the response (“Hundred bad, sack them all”), and thinking about what might be feasible as mitigation, given stopping it at all appears out of the question.  The call to get behind the new competition may be nonsensical, but equally opposing the Hundred to the point that any and all suggestions made around it are automatically dismissed isn’t hugely helpful either.  If there were a genuine prospect of changing the direction of travel, that might be a different thing, but this seems desperately unlikely.  This is how it is going to be for a number of years at minimum, whether people like it or not.  Since that is the case, it bears examination whether Giles’ idea might then represent a better outcome than a normal county championship pushed ever more to the margins of the season? It’s an open question, but one worthy of consideration. There are serious downsides to Giles’ idea, but whether the upsides improve the overall position compared to doing nothing should be considered properly, without a knee jerk “no” as a response to everything.

The suggestion that only half points should be awarded for the championship games played during the Hundred window is particularly controversial, but it does also offer up the intriguing prospect that even with half points, counties might need to balance their squads rather better than they do under next year’s regime where it makes no difference. Essex and Somerset for example might be especially weak if 2020 was repeated, but under Giles’ thinking then rather than necessarily being a bad thing, it might encourage them to ensure they have sufficient red ball specialists in the leftovers to prevent them being repeatedly crushed.

Such a proposal would also have the knock on effect of requiring some of the matches to be played at the outgrounds rather than the eight stadia where the Hundred matches will take place. This too is a mixed blessing – certainly such venues tend to be popular with spectators, but there is a considerable cost involved in making them ready for Championship cricket, and the quality of pitches can be variable. There is also the matter of the value for money involved in county membership, given some matches would be rather distant from the main ground, yet a proposal that offers an unclear picture as to whether something is good or ill rather represents progress – such is the reality of ECB planning.

Along with one or two political matters that Will Not Be Talked About Under Any Circumstances, the polarisation caused by the advent of the Hundred makes a nuanced response difficult to maintain. Without question, the ECB are culpable for this – it’s not just the principle behind the Hundred that can be criticised, but also that the ability of the ECB to make the worst of things is genuinely impressive. Purely from a business perspective, they are an extraordinarily incompetent organisation. The continual omnishambolic leaking, the genuinely dreadful marketing (as an aside, it’s endlessly amusing reading former cricketers who know nothing at all about such things defending the ECB to the great unwashed, many of whom might actually know a bit about the subject) all points to an organisation that is amazingly amateurish. This is then always the problem with those who say that the fact that it is coming is sufficient reason to get behind it – they don’t deserve anyone getting behind them and haven’t done for many years. An acceptance of the reality that it’s going to happen is not approval, and certainly not support, and pointing out the inherent flaws and idiocies remains perfectly appropriate.  Andrew Strauss once talked about the Kevin Pietersen issue being a matter of trust, but the ECB have long since burned any residual trust they had with those who love the game of cricket, which is why their pleas forever fall on deaf ears. Sporting governing bodies might not be popular, but only the ECB is at war with its own supporters.  It is therefore particularly irritating to be told to pipe down by those who stand to benefit directly, and speaks to the consistent failing in all circles of professional cricket in conflating what is in their own interests with the general interests of the sport itself.

It’s long been my contention that “the game” doesn’t mean the wider game, only their small part of it, but it is equally beholden on those of us on the outside not to oppose just for the sake of opposition. The Hundred might well drive a coach and horses through traditional cricket, and provide little to no benefit further down. But there is little merit in screaming into the void at every single suggestion ever made and assuming it can only make things worse, even if scepticism about the rationale behind their latest wheeze is perfectly reasonable. Giles’ suggestion would also return the 50 over competition to being a first team one rather than a development tournament, albeit early in the season, and to that end would undo some of the crass stupidity of the ECB abandoning the format domestically in which England have become World Champions – often at the expense of the Test side.

The County Championship would certainly be diminished by playing it at the same time as the Hundred. But the problem is that it’s diminished anyway, and if next year’s schedule was repeated, that diminution is only going to continue and get worse. Rugby provides some interesting comparisons with cricket in many ways – far more so than football. And rugby does cope with players disappearing from their club sides to play internationals at the same time as the domestic championship takes place. Perhaps it can be said that is no different to how cricket has always been, but this Rugby World Cup is a good case in point of radically weakened sides still competing in the main domestic tournament, and making use of that by bringing in younger players and developing them. Perhaps the lesson there is that it is possible for such things to be a net positive. In this case that is a highly contentious proposition, but it does at the very least deserve a fair hearing.

Of course, rugby has also been notably different to cricket in terms of the exposure it seeks. This morning’s World Cup final will doubtless have been watched by many millions of people (albeit a lot might have turned off with 10 minutes to go), but the contrast in that is not just with the ECB. World Rugby specifically have a policy that the World Cup should be free to air wherever possible – it’s written into their mission statement for the entire tournament. Japanese TV coverage was an interesting example, where they had to negotiate to ensure some matches were free to air. This is antithetical to the ICC, who sell off the rights to the highest bidder and have no interest in who they are sold on to, and whether people then have to pay to watch. It’s a stunning, startlingly huge difference in approach by the two sports, and it’s hard to dispute that rugby has done a better job of promoting itself. Even the presence of rugby sevens in the Olympics while cricket continues to show ambivalence about T20’s involvement demonstrates that, while if ever a difference could be identified in profile, it could be seen in the way on the eve of the Rugby World Cup final, it was the number one item on the BBC Six O’Clock News. The number one item.

For us as a group, the post summer period tends to be our quiet time of the year, partly because we take a bit of a break, and partly because those people who pay us to work do expect us to turn up and do it. We’re fortunate that our really chaotic periods tend not to often coincide with each other, if ever there’s a gap when cricket is on, that’s what’s happened. So it’s a pleasure to note when we make our return that we still have plenty to talk about. The winter tours (three of them) have begun, with a T20 against New Zealand that rather passed everyone by,  but we are back, and we are as annoyed as ever.

The Ministry of Public Enlightenment

I came across a peculiar article this week, one that wasn’t in the mainstream media and one which as far as I could see hadn’t been published on Twitter or any of the other main social media sites. It was an article on LinkedIn by Sanjay Patel, MD of The Hundred, that someone had liked (hence why it came to my attention). It’s mainly word soup as you would come to expect from a senior executive of the ECB, but some of the claims are rather interesting to say the least:

It’s been a busy few weeks for The Hundred. We’ve been introduced to the teams, the brands and the kits. And following Sunday’s fascinating The Hundred Draft, we have the final piece in the jigsaw – the players. Fans of the eight new men’s teams have been poring over the selections, while media experts have worked out who are the favourites and the outsiders. It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

Because there is one big question that needs to be asked at the end of the astonishing summer of 2019: What’s next? How do you follow England’s impossibly thrilling World Cup win? Ben Stokes’s innings of a lifetime at Headingley? The excitement of T20 finals day and the conclusion of the County Championship? No sport can afford to stand still, and there is a tremendous opportunity to raise even further cricket’s profile, which has been boosted so encouragingly this year.

More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts. So the appetite and opportunity are there. In 2020 the ECB launches its five-year Inspiring Generations strategy. As the name suggests, the vision is to attract and excite the next generation of cricket fans as part of a push to grow the game for men, women, boys and girls in our schools and clubs.

The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales. The new tournament is a central part of that drive to get more and more people watching and playing the game in the next five years. The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport. It will be fast, furious and fantastic – and feature most of the best home-grown and overseas players in the world, including members of England’s men’s and women’s World Cup-winning sides. The Hundred also sees live cricket return to free-to-air TV for the first time in 15 years as the BBC screens matches from both the men’s and women’s competitions, alongside prolific support from Sky.

Cricket has always been a sport of innovation. In recent decades we have seen the emergence and acceptance of one-day internationals, coloured uniforms, day-night matches, the white ball game and new formats such as T20. Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before.  

Cricket’s doors are well and truly open and we’re looking forward to welcoming in a new generation of people who love the game. 

I haven’t got the time or energy to go into the full article in depth, plus I’m nowhere near as good as Dmitri in fisking a particular piece of fiction, which this is; however it did naturally leave me with a few questions as to what this article was trying to achieve apart from a back slap from a fellow corporate crowd:

  • It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

I will give this to Sanjay as there has been increased focus on the sport, mainly through people wondering why a sport is trying to perform it’s own version of hari-kari after regaining a morsel of interest from the wider UK public. We are the current World Cup holders yet a 50 over competition won’t be played by those who are most likely to be the next cab up for the national side. They will of course be playing for the teams of the Hundred. So there is a massive chance that players who are called up to represent England in the 50 over competition in the future may well have never played a game of 50 over cricket in their professional lives. Hardly a firm basis for creating a successful inter white ball team, if that’s what the aim is. Whatever the result of the Rugby World Cup Final this weekend, I very much doubt they will abandon the 15-a-side game to play 10-a-side game over 55 minutes with a beach ball. They at least have a sane administration.

  • More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts.

This is a very bold statement, though if broken down it is fairly easy to see where the figures have been massaged. The Cricket World Cup which was heavily attended by Indian, Australian and Pakistani supporters alongside English cricket fans, so they will be included in these figures. The 900,000 is probably the overall number of tickets sold than people actually attending; however it is the statements that 1.2million children engaged in cricket and 500,000 played the game in schools that I’m most sceptical about. I’m not an expert on this (and perhaps Danny might be able to chime in) but how do you measure an engagement with cricket? Did someone accidentally flick over to the cricket channel by mistake? Did they look out of the window and see some cricket being played (a sackable offence of course)? Did they eat some KP snacks and thus must be completely engaged with the sport forever now? The mind does boggle somewhat as to how the ECB have come up with this engagement figure.

The 500,000 children supposedly playing in schools however is the statistic that seems particularly odd. Cricket has been phased out of state schools for years with many having no cricket facilities whatsover, so how many of these children are simply private schools who continue to have the means and wealth to play the sport? How many of these children got given a plastic bat or ball once as part of ‘chance to shine’ or the ‘World Cup’ and have never had the urge or opportunity to play again? This seems to be a case of lies, damned lies and statistics, which is something the ECB likes to try and hide behind (unless you ask them about the fall in participation after cricket was put solely as a pay to view sport

  • The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales.

SHOW ME THIS RESEARCH, I KNOW NOBODY WHO HAS BEEN CONSULTED ABOUT THESE CHANGES

  • The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport:

I reckon over 95% of existing fans of the sport have already shown their disgust at the format, which alienates most fans of the came (International and County) and seems to be a stealth approach to reducing the number of counties in the systems. Also how do they know that by bastardising the fairly simple rules of cricket that it is going to appeal to the next generation of fans? Most mothers and children of a certain age can quite easily count to both 6 and also to twenty, so why will they want to pay £25 for 20 less deliveries and a pointless farrago of a pretend ‘cricket game’ where the only new marketing messaging has been ‘look at the shiny kits’? I’m not sure anyone likes to be taken for an idiot.

  • Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before:

Yes they will be played together and the whole budget for the women’s hundred teams is under the annual salary of the Managing Director. Equality, I think not. Still box ticked and all that.

  • Cricket’s doors are well and truly open

Well they’re not though are they. If you’re not in the chosen demographic they’re not. If you’re a fan of the County Championship they’re not. If you’re a fan of Test Cricket, especially with having a competitive Test Side they’re not. If you are a fan of the T20 blast they’re not. If you have allegiances to a county especially those who are deemed surplus to requirements then they’re not. If you want to see a competitive 50 over side try and retain the World Cup they’re not.

This doesn’t leave us with many people who are able to enter these particular doors! Perhaps Sanjay wasn’t referring to the fans but instead those Execs, TV Presenters and other administrators who are due to cash in profitably from this tournament. The doors are naturally open to mothers and children, but most are too sensible to enter this bear trap despite the ECB’s deliberate dumbing down of this demographic.


This is just corporate drivel par excellence. They just needed to add some extra buzz phrases such as ‘low hanging fruit’, ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘connecting all sides of the circle’ to have made this a true PR masterpiece. Though it looks like they have already done this to the team descriptions already!

My main question though Sanjay is if you are so proud of these ‘so-called achievements’ then why hide away this article on a business networking site? why not open it up to the fans so they can join in with your adulation about cricket’s future? why not go on TV and be interviewed by ‘Wardy’, so you can comment on what a great question that was?

The answer is simple. Even those that stand to make the most out of this know it’s a giant white elephant designed to make them richer and they know the fans of the game can see right through their lies. This will irrevocably damage English cricket in the future and quite simply they don’t want to have justify their naked greed and ambition to the people that will lose the most – the fans. Expect the next press release from the ECB to come out in hieroglyphics or Minoan or something like that. Nothing surprises me with these charlatans anymore.

Into The Blue Again, After The Money’s Gone – Another Go

Happy near Halloween everyone. Dmitri here. It has been a long time. Time for a little ramble.

The end of the domestic international season has, recently, been greeted by your writing team with a shrug of the shoulders, and a time for rest. As time goes by, we become more time poor, and speaking from my experience, there is far too much else filling my day at the moment, and at this time of year, to give full attention to what is, now, very much a labour of love. I have admiration for those piling out the content, day in, day out. I just don’t have the time to do it any more.

Then the irony. As I pressed publish, so Sean published his at the same time. So I took this down and it has gone up two days later.

I have spent some of my spare time (a) buying loads of secondhand books and (b) actually reading some of them. I think the recent ones each bring a little bit to the party in terms of viewing cricket these days. “The Club” is about how a sport was “revived and saved” by brilliant marketeers who took a chance, woke up, and thought they could monetise the sport better – and now we have the Sportwashing, Money Laundering, Rich Man’s Plaything Premier League as a result. There’s a little bit of a blueprint for what Harrison and Co are trying to do with The Hundred in there. He may even see himself as the Rick Parry of cricket, you never know. Then there was Phoenix from the Ashes by Mike Brearley, about the 1981 series forever known as Botham’s Ashes. It’s a flowery old book, written in JMB’s standard purple prose, and yet it gives an insight into what is now very much a bygone era. I particularly liked the agonising as to whether to pick Geoff Cook as a test opener despite the fact he had a first class average under 30. That raised a smile.

I read Kieran Fallon’s book, which mirrors much of the KP story, if truth be told. All the things that went wrong in his life were never his fault – not on the horse racing side at least. Top Cees wasn’t stopped, Ballinger Ridge wasn’t sinister, he didn’t have an affair with Henry Cecil’s wife, and the authorities never liked him. Yet at the top of his game, few rivalled him. He could pull out brilliant rides, and annoy the owners of the horses he rode at the same time. A sporting maverick out of tune with many in the sport. Yep, that resonated. As did the fact the ghost author of the book was Oliver Holt.

I’m reading Chaos Monkeys, a supposed insider tell all on Facebook and the like. Loads of people convinced of their own brilliance, but subservient to the main man (in this case Zuckerburg). I am not far into it and I already loathe the author. Not sure how that will have an analogy to crickt. Then there’s the wealth of books on Trump, telling me how bad he is in so many different ways. Trump is The Hundred. There are some misguided people in hock to the cult, but most see it for what it is. A huge ego trip, We all hope it will go away, but we all know it won’t. It’s trouble, whether we like it or not.

I missed the auction – I had a business trip to South Korea which coincided with the world launch of Terminator Whatever in the shopping centre below my hotel, and a chance encounter with John Bolton no less – and the parliamentary sub-committee that grandstands as giving a toss about the game, but in fact is a toothless tiger that would do nothing to enforce anything on the game, because it can’t. So while it might have caused Graves, Harrison, Patel et al some minor discomfort, they aren’t about to turn around and see the light. This is their great idea, and no-one is going to change their course.

And then there is the cricket itself. South Africa being buried in India is somewhat sad, but indicative of how strong the Indian team is at home, and how weakened South Africa have become after England strips bare a lot of its talent for the county game that is so unbeloved we have had to introduce a new competition to counter that scorn. It might have been wonderful for Rohit Sharma to fill his boots, but one suspects this is even more the way of test cricket. India can’t be blamed for burying teams in their own backyard, why should they, but strength in depth isn’t test cricket’s watchword at the moment.

The World T20 pre-qualifying has been going on, but sadly I’ve not got to see a lot of it. It is great that Sky Sports Cricket Channel has actually decided to show some live cricket, and those that feel passionately about the world game can at least watch some decent T20 cricket. Whether a cricket channel should have been showing test cricket when it is on, is for you all to decide. The world loves T20 at the moment, so why not show it?

Talking of T20, England are out in New Zealand for five of the damn things, with the test series still a month away. The first is on Friday, apparently. I’m not interested. If it’s on, it is on, and I’ll watch it. I don’t care about the outcome, a loss for the national team will be greeted by massive indifference, just as a win would, and the world will keep on turning. The sport is about revenue generation, not occasion. Got to keep the coffers flowing.

Finally in this short (for me) piece, let me turn to The Hundred. I am absolutely sick of it. Sick of what it is doing to the sport. Sick of seeing fans turn against fans. Sick of how the ECB have ballsed the whole thing up, but carry on regardless. But most of all, I am sick that the ECB, and the past pros, and those making money out of the thing by either playing in it, reporting on it, being an ex-officio member of a county supplying players to it or commentating on it are now switching their focus. Remembering that we were the reason cricket is in trouble, us white, 50 year olds, with some disposable income, mostly male are a massive barrier to entry (and not the other socio-economic factors, natch) and almost inhospitable to women and children (where’s the evidence), the worm has turned and now we HAVE to get behind the damn thing or the risky punt that the ECB has taken will fail, and that will do no-one any good. It’s like an arsonist setting fire to a house he is in, and it being the fire brigade’s fault if he gets burned.

The county cricket fan is still going to go to see his or her county if they (a) are still going and (b) have decent games to play. Asking us to fall into line to watch a competition that talks big, but doesn’t get the really big T20 stars to play in it is not it. The new teams, the new colours, the players mainly with little affinity to the region they are playing in, in a competition where 80 or so county cricketers will profit while their colleagues founder, with the damage this will do to county contracts, the incentives to play at county grounds where the Hundred is sited. There’s a ton of consequences that Harrison and co don’t give a shit about. I don’t want to read Joe Root exhort me to get behind it. I want Joe Root to score test centuries again. I don’t want Isa Guha to tell me that if the fans don’t back it, then the game is in trouble – we didn’t put it there. And most of all, I don’t want to see articles by people who love the game, finding bogeymen and women that aren’t there, and doing the ECB’s dirty work.

2019 was an excellent cricketing summer. It ended with someone thinking that this:

Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.

Is something appropriate. How many of the Welsh Fire team are actually from Wales. Maybe the people who hate are Welsh cricketers?

From the heroics of Stokes and Archer, to meaningless blurbs for meaningless teams in a meaningless competition, without meaning except to raise money and put the counties in their place, is a tragedy. Hell, if England win the rugby union World Cup on Saturday, cricket might see the real power of free to air TV, as I would imagine that would pass the ODI team for the Team of the Year awards because rugby did not totally sell its soul to the highest bidder. That might be the biggest lesson yet, and ten or so meaningless hit and giggle cricket isn’t going to change it.

Until next time. Hopefully not as long.

The message is clear. The ECB is not your friend. The players are governed by self interest. You, the fan, must STFU, pay your entry fee, and pay homage to the great and the good. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. I was saying this in 2014. I don’t have the time to fight now.