Dissecting The ECB’s The Hundred Talking Points 2: From The Horse’s Mouth

It’s been a busy couple of months for me, regarding The Hundred. First I wrote a 6,000-word piece listing a hundred issues I had with the new competition, followed by a 5,000-word post about the ECB’s reasoning for the new format as relayed to us by The Cricketer magazine’s Inside Cricket podcast. Last Sunday I also did a 1,200-word post about the statistics the ECB released during their website and logo launch. Needless to say, I’m pretty sick of the subject and wanted a break from the whole damn thing for a while.

Then Tom Harrison did an extended interview with Mark Chapman, Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell on the ‘Tuffers And Vaughan’ Radio 5 Live show. It is, if you really want to listen to it, available here as a podcast for the next four weeks. Now I’m not a fan of ‘Tuffers’ or Vaughan, I don’t listen to the show, and I can’t say I was expecting anything other than a PR puff piece.

Instead, it turned out to be a pretty disastrous appearance by the ECB chief executive. A word soup of marketing buzzwords, not answering most of the straightforward (and surprisingly pointed) questions, and being completely unable to present a rational, logical reasoning for The Hundred’s existence.

So I typed up the whole thing, and here is my latest 7,800 word monstrosity:

Mark Chapman: “Why are you bringing it [The Hundred] in?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s about growing the game. We know we’ve got three fantastic tournaments, county tournaments that do a fantastic job at bringing out loyal fans into the game. But we also know there’s a huge opportunity, if we do things a bit differently, to get hold of a much wider audience. Potentially, by positioning the game a bit differently, we’d be able to grow the game, open up that gateway for the game for generations of fans in the future. So it’s an opportunity for us to think slightly differently, and present the game in a way that enables many millions of fans who particularly haven’t had the opportunity to be part of the game to come in. And that’s something we’re excited about.”

One thing I hate about interviews with ECB staff is that so many of them are utterly incapable of speaking plain English when communicating with the general public. Talking like this might be fine if you’re a merchant banker (either the job or the rhyming slang) in a boardroom, but most people’s eye just glaze over as the business jargon just spews out in an uncontrollable and unintelligible blur. It is also very repetitive, so if you had a shot every time Tom said “opportunity”, “positioning” or “different” then you would die from alcohol poisoning halfway through.

Now I’m not expert, and I genuinely hate the language used, but I think the gist of this answer is that there aren’t enough people watching cricket in England. I agree with that. I think we all do. But that doesn’t answer the question, which is why they chose The Hundred to remedy that. Why The Hundred was the best option for the ECB to take. Perhaps they have a rock solid explanation for why they’ve made the decisions they have, but thus far no one at the ECB has made a convincing argument for it.

Mark Chapman: “You said ‘differently’ in that answer three times. With a ‘thinking differently’, ‘positioning it differently’, ‘doing it differently’. What does ‘differently’ mean?”

Tom Harrison: “Through the work that we’ve done, we’ve worked out that there are about 10.5 million fans of cricket in this country, and we are very successful at bringing about 1.5m million through the existing county competitions. The international game obviously goes a stage further and brings more fans in. But what we worked out is if we’re able to address three key issues, and that is about the time the game takes, the perception of the game, so the way in which the game is positioned in this county. In other words, are we making it easy for fans of different communities, diverse communities, young people, sporty families, to get involved in the game? That’s the second thing. And the third thing is: Are we making it difficult for people to understand the game through the complexity of the way the game is actually brought to screens in this country? So those three things are the three key elements that enable us to really work out we’ve got a big opportunity here to bring people into the game.”

I already addressed these “three key issues” in a previous post, and will be addressing two of them again later in this one, but I do feel the need to question the suggestion of complexity being a problem and The Hundred being a solution to it.

I could write my own explanation about why this is bollocks, but instead I’ll imitate England’s chief selector and copy Chris’s work instead:

“Cricket is NOT a complex game. Bowl ball, hit ball. Get batsman out, get runs. The basic tenets of cricket are extremely simple, as every 4 year old picking up a bat knows. There is nothing complicated about that. The complexity is added when you talk about the full game. Fine. But that is no different to any other sport. Football is a simple game too. But the offside law, with active/inactive, second phase and so on is extremely hard to grasp for all but those who already love the sport.”

“Rugby, which the ECB highlighted in their report about access and interest, is mind-bogglingly difficult to comprehend in its detail, and any rugby fan will freely admit that when at a game, they don’t have a clue why a decision has been made. Especially in the ruck and the scrum. That’s why you have Ref Link – to know what the hell is going on.”

“There are of course issues around accessibility to cricket, the foibles and traditions of it can be inaccessible. But the basic point that cricket is a complicated game is accepted without question. It just isn’t. It is no more complex than any other sport. Mums ‘n kids (to coin a phrase) have no more difficulty than anyone else in understanding its basics as they are. This does not mean for a second that there shouldn’t be a discussion around how to make it easier for people to get into it, but the starting point that cricket is too difficult in its essence for people to get into is, to be blunt, horseshit.”

All of which is true, but there is an even worse aspect to this argument by Tom Harrison: The Hundred (at least as described by Harrison and the ECB thus far) does literally nothing to simplify the laws of cricket compared to T20. Now there might be some aspects of the live coverage which the ECB are working with Sky and the BBC to change, making the game easier for novices to follow, but none of that requires a change in format to achieve. In fact, they could do it now with all three existing forms of the game if they so chose. So, if the ECB genuinely believes that the current cricket coverage is excluding new fans, why wouldn’t they press their ‘media partners’ to change immediately?

Phil Tufnell: “And how are you going to go about that? I mean it’s a hundred balls, there are two overs at one end so there’s less crossing over. Is that how you’re going to try and do it?”

Tom Harrison: “We reckon that, if we’re able to play the game in about two and a half hours maximum, more families are going to come into the game. That’s the feedback from fans. Over the last three years, we’ve talked to about a hundred thousand fans to really work out what are their feelings about cricket. Why is it that we’re only able to bring in this 1.5 million fans through the game when we’ve got this huge following of 10.5 [million] across the country. So the work that we’ve done is trying to define that to make that much clearer, and actually say if we do it in this way, if we make it simple, if we present it on television in a different way so that fans can very quickly get an idea of who’s winning a game, where we are at a certain stage. It’ll feel strange to listeners of this show, but we’re talking about a game which feels complex to people. People who have grown up with the game don’t find it remotely complex but new fans of the game, they do find it complex and we do have to try and address that through this tournament.”

It is fair to say that 2.5 hours is almost certainly preferable to people with children when compared to a three-hour game, but surely it’s still a long way from being ideal for parents? I can think of literally no films, or TV shows, or live entertainment, which expects children to concentrate or participate for longer than two hours. For pre-teens, ninety minutes might be somewhat of a stretch. Young children generally have low attention spans and small bladders (relative to most adults, at least). Does Tom Harrison and the ECB really expect us to believe that parents would have been less interested in a format in which games only lasted ninety minutes, or two hours?

Michael Vaughan: “After 2005, if the game had stayed on free-to-air television, do you think you would have had to turn to this project?”

Tom Harrison: “I think the world’s changed dramatically since then. In 2003, you’re five years before the iPad was invented. The world has changed a great deal in that time and we’ve got different challenges, as every team sport has. We’re very fortunate to have an opportunity through a change in culture in this country, it’s much more multicultural, more urban. Now we know that, by 2030, most of us are going to be living in and around cities, 80% in this country. That gives us a huge opportunity, as a game we know people love. If you give people an opportunity to be part of this game, they will love it. They’ll  embrace it. And they will be your fans for the future. We just need to be very certain that we’re giving fans around this country an opportunity to get involved in it, in any way that we can.”

Even if all of this was true and in any way relevant to the question asked (and it’s clearly not), it wouldn’t explain why cricket in particular amongst team sports appears to have been the hardest hit. How would you justify the fact that cricket is less popular now with children compared to football, rugby, netball, basketball, American football, and a few other sports if “every team sport” is facing the same challenges? I mean, I’d argue that the ECB were a bunch of incompetent administrators who were driving English cricket into the ground. But how would the ECB chief executive rationalize why cricket in England has been perhaps the worst performer of all team sports?

As for more people moving into cities (and I would love to know where the 80% in 2030 figure comes from), that shows a rather large gap in the ECB’s logic. Is an eight-team competition which doesn’t cover large metropolitan areas like Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle or Bristol really such a good way to ensure most people have easy access to live cricket? Or that London couldn’t support a lot more than two cricket teams? There might well be an argument for having teams in new places to cover a larger proportion of England’s current-day population, but The Hundred doesn’t do that. It has fewer teams serving a lesser percentage of England and Wales, and in my book that’s not an improvement.

Michael Vaughan: “And just recently you did an interview in the West Indies with Simon Mann, where you said ‘The Hundred is already a success.’ Can you explain that?”

Tom Harrison: “I think what it’s done is helped us work very very differently with our broadcasters for starters, with our partners in the game. We’re now joined at the hip in trying to grow the game together. That’s a very different kind of relationship to the one we have going back a few years. It’s given us fresh impetus in a relationship with Sky. Sky have been cricket’s best friend for the last 25 years and enabled us to create the strong set of stadia we’ve got around the country. And it’s obviously transformed out relationship right through the BBC, and that’s huge for us because it enables us to work together with these huge partners to bring more fans into the game. So it is absolutely about the growth of the game, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t feel that we were taking this opportunity to take the game to those communities that potentially haven’t had an opportunity to be part of English cricket’s fabric in the past.”

So Sky is “cricket’s best friend” and helped build a “strong set of cricket stadia” Of the 18 county ‘cricket stadia’, only two are actually full for T20 Blast games (and neither of them is hosting a men’s team in The Hundred). What is the point of having great grounds if barely anyone attends them? Sky certainly haven’t been a great friend to first-class cricket, barely broadcasting any County Championship games over the past few years despite having the exclusive TV rights.

I have to say, Tom Harrison looks very well-rested for someone who has been in charge of an organisation which has missed plenty of opportunities in the past to broaden English cricket’s appeal…

Mark Chapman: “Did you have to come up with a new format because the BBC said a T20 game was too long?”

Tom Harrison: “No, not at all. This was because we were trying to address three key issues that came back from fans. One is about time, one is about ‘The game is complex. We don’t understand the game. Is there a way that we can make it more straightforward.'”

I actually believe this. When the BBC bid for the rights, the competition was T20. The BBC might have preferred a shorter timeslot, and the counties might have wanted the Blast to remain the premier English T20 competition, but I have to think that something as dumb in theory and execution as The Hundred has to have been created solely by the ECB.

Mark Chapman: “Who were these fans, by the way?”

Tom Harrison: “So we talked to a hundred thousand fans […] People who said they expressed an interest in cricket but for whatever reason they weren’t coming into grounds. They weren’t buying tickets. Their kids might play at school. They might have a loose connection through a father played at a local club. We know there are 10.5 million people out there who potentially would be part of this cricket community if we were able to make the game appeal to them in a way that we know we can.”

I think everyone was wondering which fans the ECB had consulted over The Hundred, because none of us were asked. It turns out we were too ‘engaged’ to offer an opinion. Instead, they appear to have asked ‘fans’ who were vaguely interested in the sport without watching it regularly. Which isn’t to suggest that the ECB shouldn’t try and tempt these people into a stronger affection for the game, but maybe it would have been useful to ask us lot as well…

Tom Harrison: “Through presenting it on television, through presenting it on digital channels in a different way, through getting young people and kids involved in a different way. So the three audiences that we know that we can get hold of are young people, sporty families, and diverse communities who have got huge passion for the game. We’ve done it with the Women’s World Cup, where you saw a very different audience coming in because we presented the game differently.”

Mark Chapman: “Although the Women’s World Cup is [50-over] cricket.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, it is. That’s a good point.”

I mean, let’s just applaud this. In seven words, Chapman absolutely destroys Harrison’s contention that a new format is necessary in order to reinvigorate English cricket.

Mark Chapman: “My point being, if there’s a perception cricket is too complicated, the Women’s World Cup wasn’t too complicated.

Tom Harrison: “No, the Women’s World Cup enabled us to say ‘If you really want cricket to do the job, it can do it.’ The things that we did there was create partnerships with different media organisations. We advertised the game in different parts of the country. We said at the start of that year, 2017, ‘We must sell out the World Cup final. No matter who’s playing.’ And that job was done before England qualified for that final. What it shows is the power is actually in the game itself. The game of cricket is a battle between bat and ball, and if we’re able to give that opportunity to people, to celebrate the game between bat and ball, and do it in a straightforward way, we’re clear that we can appeal to different audiences in a way that will safeguard the future for all of our competitions going forward.”

As the ECB’s chief executive says here, all that is required to bring new fans to English cricket is effective marketing. You can look at the number of people watching, listening and playing cricket in recent years to gauge their typical effectiveness in this regard.

I do wonder, regarding the success and popularity of the Women’s World Cup in 2017, how much the ECB had to do with it. It is an ICC event after all, so I don’t know which aspects of the marketing and media were handled by the host board. I do know that attendances for England women’s games plummetted back to their pre-World Cup levels the following year. If the ICC handled PR for the World Cup, that would demonstrate the inability of the ECB to promote the women’s game. If the ECB were responsible for the meteoric rise in 2017, that would suggest they didn’t really try in 2018. I honestly don’t know which possibility is worse…

Michael Vaughan: “I hear you on all the diversity, and trying to appeal to new audiences, get more people interested in cricket. How much of The Hundred is a commercial venture?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s about growing the game, ultimately. Remember that when people talk ‘commercial’, they talk about money, the investment that we get in the game is all pumped right back into it. This is about growth. In a very competitive environment where we’re having to work really hard, like other team sports, to maintain relevance in a context of ten, fifteen, twenty years’ time. I’m not comfortable as CEO of the ECB with only 7% of children getting access to cricket at school, so we’ve got a sports strategy which is designed to absolutely transform our footprint in schools.”

There is literally nothing stopping Tom Harrison and the ECB funding Chance To Shine so that they can reach every single child in English and Welsh primary schools, if not now then at least from 2020 onwards when they get the money from the new Sky TV deal. If Chance To Shine visited every primary school on a six-year rota, theoretically seeing every child in that time, it might cost the ECB about £10m per year. Surely a small price to pay for Tom Harrison’s comfort?

Tom Harrison: “Transforming the women’s and girls’ game is important to us, so that we can demonstrate to a twelve/thirteen year old girl what her pathway through the game. Whether it’s to play club cricket or whether it’s, if she’s talented, to go through the elite pathway into the England dressing room. There are numerous different opportunities there. The Hundred is one of twenty six activities that we’ve designed across the six pillars of the strategy going forwards. The plan to grow cricket. And we’re very confident that we can achieve that through thinking bravely, with a bold plan for the men’s and women’s game together, to enable us to achieve great things for the game.”

Women’s cricket. It’s not particularly a success story for the ECB. Right now, the ‘pathway’ for this hypothetic 12 year old girl is club cricket (if she can find a predominantly men’s team prepared to play with a ‘girl’), then the amateur county competition (where she would still have to pay for her own kit, uniform and membership fees), and finally, if she became one of the twenty best women cricketers in the country, perhaps she would get a central contract with the England team. There are simply very few opportunities for women to make a living from cricket compared to the men’s game. There are reports that the ECB wants to start a professional domestic cricket structure for eight women’s teams, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

As for the women’s half of The Hundred, the ECB hardly seems to be working on it at all. In the past weeks and months, a great many details about The Men’s Hundred has come to light through ‘good journalism’ or official press releases. The draft day, the pay levels of players and coaches, the budgets for marketing and in-game entertainment, and much more.  Literally none of the reported information relates to the women’s competition at all. When I asked The Cricketer editor Simon Hughes about this apparent discrepency, he said there’s “No information because there isn’t any!” I think this shows the lack of regard the ECB has for the women’s game.

Their attitude is likely shared by the two broadcasters for The Hundred. Last week’s reports seemed to imply that the BBC would only show one women’s The Hundred game on live TV, rather than the eight they’re entitled to as part of their TV deal with the ECB. As for Sky, it seems unlikely they will show many women’s matches either. With both men’s and women’s competitions being played in the same 38-day window (each with over 30 group games) plus three men’s Test matches, there is simply not enough room in the schedule for everything to be shown. At least, not unless Sky and the ECB are prepared to show a women’s game on TV at the same time as a Test match or a men’s The Hundred game.

Michael Vaughan: “Just go three or four years in time. I’ve been working at the IPL, and the IPL games are taking too long, and The Hundred’s arrived and a shorter format. It’s probably what T20 was ten years ago. It was an hour and twenty minutes in the field, quick change around, an hour and twenty. Done and dusted in three hours. Now it’s two hours almost in the field, it’s taking too long. If, for instance, in two years’ time the Big Bash or the IPL want to turn to The Hundred, would that be a franchise that you would sell to these other countries?”

Tom Harrison: “At the moment we’re doing this for our own conditions, the challenges and opportunities that we’ve got in our own backyard, a bit like T20. In 2003, that format wasn’t developed to effectively be the thing that’s given cricket the shot in the arm that it has over the last fifteen years. It was developed pretty much as an answer to dwindling crowds at domestic cricket back in 2003. I think the same’s true here. I personally feel that there is an opportunity to take these playing conditions for a hundred balls into a wider context. That opportunity will be there for the global game to take advantage of it. We have things like the Olympic movement. We’re looking at things like how do we expand cricket into new territories. Parts of South America, the US, all of these parts of the world. The Hundred has got a role to play, if the game wants it, to help with that growth.”

Is the ECB headquarters located next to where the Metropolitan Police incinerate confiscated drugs? Are they sponsored by a Columbian cocaine farmer? Because I see literally no other reason why someone would expect other boards pay for the honour of using The Hundred as a format. This isn’t a comment on the The Hundred itself. I don’t think any countries would have paid for the rights to use T20 either, even if the ECB had had the foresight in 2003 to have copyrighted it. If other countries want a shorter format, they can just invent their own for free. F15 perhaps, or ‘The 99’.

Mark Chapman: “A couple of things on families. […] My wife took two of our kids to the Roses T20 game at Old Trafford last summer, and there were two, three lads sat behind who were so drunk before the teams had even come out that, when the teams came out, one of the lads shouted ‘Come on Gloucestershire!’ So I don’t know what game he thought he was at. But you will know, Tom, that going to a lot of cricket, a lot of T20, is like being on a stag do. And the finals day is one giant stag do. So what do you do to try and stop cricket becoming even more like going on a stag do, and in particular The Hundred? You’re trying to attract sporting families.”

Tom Harrison: “Look, it’s a good question. Ultimately, it’s really important that, across all of our competitions, families feel that it’s a safe and welcoming environment to watch cricket in. The Hundred is going to be positioned as family entertainment. This is something where a dad, a mum and two kids can go and have two and a half hours of fun watching world-class cricket with the world’s best players playing fantastic cricket in both men’s and women’s competitions, and hopefully get in and out of the ground within two and a half hours. That’s the plan.”

A game of The Hundred is projected to last two and a half hours. How is it that Tom Harrison expects families to get in and out of the stadium in 0 minutes? I can’t say I’ve attended any of the host grounds, but I’d suspect that when they’re full (which Harrison seems to expect) it takes quite a while for people to actually reach their cars or the transport links.

Mark Chapman: “Are they going to have fifteen lads dressed up as Scooby Doo, trying to build a beer snake behind them?”

Tom Harrison: “No. That’s very much around the kind of partnerships that we will bring together, working very closely with our venues to ensure that that environment in stadia is conducive to making families feel safe and welcome.”

Mark Chapman: “Will you have family stands?”

Tom Harrison: “I think there are family stands now, in most grounds. I think some of the behaviour that you might be alluding to is very isolated. Ultimately this is going to be positioned in a way that is literally designed to give families that day out that makes them want to come back time and time again.”

I’d love to have faith in the ECB’s promises of partnerships (whatever that means in this context) to remedy the rampant alcoholism of some cricket fans, but I don’t. There hasn’t been a single concrete suggestion which I have seen about how the ECB intends to counter the perception that crowds at the cricket, and in particular at the T20 Blast, have a lot of people drinking a lot of beer. Certainly, they have stated categorically to Mirror correspondent Dean Wilson that they won’t have alcohol-free games.

It is also disingenous for Harrison to suggest this was an “isolated” incident. For one thing, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the barrel. The two drunk lads at the Roses game Chapman describes could well have annoyed or worried dozens of people sitting near them.

More importantly, the idea of drunk cricket fans deterring other people from attending games can’t be news to Tom Harrison. In his podcast a few weeks ago, Simon Hughes describes the ECB’s most important reason for the launch of The Hundred as “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.” The experiences of the Chapman family are not isolated, and it’s insulting to everyone’s intelligence for the ECB’s chief executive to suggest otherwise.

Ultimately, it comes down to money. People paying inflated prices for crappy beer is a great moneyspinner for the host grounds. If the ECB attempt to curtail that in any way, the counties will demand greater hosting fees in exchange. ECB sponsors Greene King, Thatchers and Veuve Clicquot might also be perturbed to see their revenue from cricket grounds decrease.

Having said all of that, I can’t say I see a great future in using The Hundred to increase the numbers of families attending live cricket.  Given the congestion caused by The Hundred and three Test matches being played at the same time, a large number of the games will have to be played in the evening. Having matches finish after 8.30 pm is far from ideal for many families, whilst games starting at 6.00 pm or 6.30pm are more-or-less perfect for the after-work drinks crowd. For all the ECB’s family-friendly rhetoric, I can’t see it panning out.

Mark Chapman: “What will it cost to go and watch The Hundred?”

Tom Harrison: “Well we’re working on that. We haven’t got the absoute, definitive answer to that question, but I can tell you that it will be affordable and it will be linked much closer to county cricket than international.”

Mark Chapman: “If attracting families from wider communities is the priority, why were Headingley tickets a minimum of £40 for adults and £20 for a child for this week’s warm-up one-dayer? That doesn’t strike me as ‘affordable’.”

Tom Harrison: “I think that affordability of international cricket is one of the questions we’ve got to answer. By developing a competition that is targeting families that haven’t felt like they’ve had the opportunity to be part of English cricket to date and watch world-class cricket. I think we will find that opportunity is there for people. This is about growing the game. We’re really serious about this. Our whole five year plan that we launched in January, ‘Inspiring Generations’, is all about growth. Yes, it’s about investing and underpinning everything that we feel passionate about. Our three county competitions. Underpinning Test cricket.”

Mark Chapman: “But if you’re talking about growing the game, if you talk about the dad, the mum and the two kids, that’s £120 to go to Headingley for a warm-up for an international one-dayer. Before you’ve even paid for car parking, travel, food, drink. £120 for a family of four for one day, that isn’t affordable for a lot of people, is it?.”

Tom Harrison: “I understand that. You’re talking about international cricket. It’s not a warm-up game. It’s a bona fide series between England and Pakistan in the lead up to the Cricket World Cup. So I think that’s premium entertainment. I think it’s positioned as that because it is international cricket at the top of the tree. The Hundred will be different because although the entertainment will be absolutely the top of the tree, the price for tickets will be very different and more reflective of what people can afford. And particularly the target communities that we’re going after. […] It demonstrates the opportunity that we’ve got.”

One of the statistics which the ECB published last week during their website and logo launch was this: 65% of ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are affluent (Someone who would be considered upper or middle class based on their job). Is it really that much of a surprise? The cheapest adult tickets for The Ashes are £60 at Headingley and £90 at the Oval. Families are expected to shell out over £100 to attend a pretty meaningless ODI in a season where England will play at least seventeen 50-over games. Plus ça change, as the French might say.

It also bears noting that this is an issue which has always been entirely within the ECB’s control. If they were worried about fans being priced out of attending cricket, they could have stepped in to lower the costs. The previous system of awarding international games, where the ECB essentially made counties bid against each other for the rights to host England games, likely had the effect of massively inflating ticket prices. Whilst the ECB moved away from that system a few years ago, the amount supporters have to spend hasn’t noticably declined.

Michael Vaughan: “How are you going to deal with those young families that come to cricket for the first time next year, on the back of (we all hope) winning the World Cup to see Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, potentially Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes. And they’re world champions. And then in a year’s time, little Johnny says ‘Mum, dad. I wanna go watch them in this Hundred.’ And they get to the time, they get the ticket, and they’re playing Test match cricket at the same time.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, there will be Test matches through this window. And this is because primarily we are an international cricket organisation. Our sport is based on international cricket. We are extremely serious about building Test cricket and continuing to be the kind of global poster child for Test cricket. We’re determined to retain and extend that reputation that we have internationally. Our international players will be part of The Hundred. The Test players won’t be able to play every game, because we simply don’t have the space in the schedule to be able to guarantee they playing in every game. But they will be part of it, and they will play in games. Hopefully at the beginning and at the end of the tournament.”

So England’s best known cricketers, the men’s Test team, will be missing for a large portion of The Hundred. I’m sure that won’t affect the number of people watching or attending the games at all…

Michael Vaughan: “The Australians come over for five one-dayers next year. The first year, The Hundred has to be a success for you all. Was there any thought, that you thought ‘You know what? We’ll give back those five one-dayers to Australia, and we’ll manoeuvre two Tests’ to make sure that all these superstars that I mentioned will be a part of The Hundred for the first year? This can’t be a failure. It has to be a success.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, it will be. I don’t think by over-delivering in year one, you necessarily guarantee long-term success. The Hundred will sustain itself through the phenomenal cricket that is being played by many of the world’s best players on the parks around the country, in the men’s and the women’s game. The Big Bash had exactly the same challenge, where they played international cricket in Australia throughout the window of that domestic tournament, and found that they were able to build on that success. I think we will have the same experience. We want fans to be genuinely excited by the calibre and quality of cricket that’s being played. It will be played at a time of year where families can go and see it, in the school holidays. Mid-July to mid-August. And I think cricket fans will absolutely love this. They will find that it’s a source of great entertainment. It will be brilliant cricket, played in some of our best stadia around the country. So I think there’s an awful lot to get excited about for cricket fans. As we start to bring some of those plans to bear over the next few months, we can start bringing some of this to life. I think that’s increasingly been the reflection of people around the cricket community that we talk to.”

I have to say, I would not be worried about “over-delivering in year one” if I was in Tom Harrison’s shoes.

I don’t think the ECB turning down ODIs would have ever been a realistic option for one simple reason: It would cost them a lot of money. As well as losing out on the ticket sales, they would also need to pay Sky a substantial sum for not playing the contractually agreed-upon number of international games. Like with ticket prices, and beer sales, the ECB has shown that they will always choose money over any other objective. I think that the only reason the ECB support The Hundred, with its limited free-to-air coverage, is because they believe it will make a profit.

The comparison to the Big Bash League is not particularly apt, because Cricket Australia had one huge advantage over the situation the ECB find themselves in now: People knew who the players in the first BBL were. Many of the cricketers in ‘BBL|1’ had previously played for Australia and, because international cricket was still shown on free-to-air TV there, many of them were household names. Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, David Hussey and Shane Warne, to name just four.

Who are the most famous current English cricketers that the ECB could get for The Hundred? Sir Alastair Cook and (should be Sir) Jimmy Anderson? Try and persuade Flintoff to come out of retirement again? After fourteen years exclusively on Sky Sports, there are no mainstream stars to use to launch the new competition.

Whilst I’m not involved in my local cricket club, I talk online with several people who are involved in theirs. One constant thing they all mention is how junior cricket grinds to a halt during the summer holidays. That’s when children go away on holiday, visit family members, go on day trips, etc. The mid-July to mid-August timeframe for The Hundred is therefore arguably the worst time of year for kids to be able to watch sport live on TV.

Phil Tufnell: “That was one of my questions. Who’s actually going to be doing the batting and the bowling of this Hundred, but you’re saying you’re going to be getting the world-class cricketers over?”

Tom Harrison: “Well all our white-ball specialists will be playing, anyone who isn’t in the Test team. […] We’re going to be playing in an ODI Championship next year. For the women’s team, all of our professional centrally-contracted cricketers will be available throughout. So there’s an awful lot to get excited about. But remember that fundamentally we also have to keep the international schedule moving, and that’s a really big priority for us as well. The Hundred can live alongside this and continue to flourish.”

Let’s recap who won’t be appearing in The Hundred:

That’s a lot of the ‘best cricketers in the world’ who won’t be playing in The Hundred. Most of them, you might argue. In fairness, the first three groups could apply to virtually every other major T20 competition around the world except for the IPL. The last two could be a significant issue in terms of perception of The Hundred, however.

As far as I can tell, no major T20 competition clashes with another. This allows the best overseas players to travel the world as mercenaries, which in turn helps promote the leagues internationally as those players will probably have fans in many countries. Some of the best and most popular of these cricketers happen to be West Indian. Andre Russell is one name which quickly springs to mind.

By scheduling The Hundred against the West Indies’ T20 tournament, the ECB are robbing themselves of some explosive players and lessening the appeal of the new competition to cricket fans in England and around the world. Incidentally, the CPL is starting in September this year, but that is in order to fit a lucrative series with India in the competition’s usual slot in the calendar. Unless the ECB are prepared to give a very large cheque to the WICB, I can’t see the same happening again next year.

Michael Vaughan: “I’ve had an email in from Henry Clark, and he says: […] ‘It’s all well and good to try and get new people watching the game, and actually I think The Hundred can have a huge positive impact. But to really tackle the issue of participation in club cricket, which is continuing to kill of clubs in our local league, the club game needs to adopt a similar stance. I’m now the only eighteen year old playing in my club team, where there was ten of my mates when we started at under-eleven standard. Players from the age of fifteen to eighteen are dropping out too consistently.'”

Tom Harrison: “It’s a common issue, and thanks for raising it. One of our frustrations is, we do an awful lot of work around demonstrating to leagues around the country that we have the ability to change formats in this game to suit players all round the country. We don’t control the leagues. Obviously they’re all autonomous. We’ve got leagues who are already experimenting with hundred-ball cricket for example this year. It was the leagues that started twenty-over cricket, it had been played decades and decades before it became a professional format. We need to keep working very hard with the leagues to educate leagues, particularly below first-team level. I played 120-over cricket for ten years through the leagues. There is still that intransigence with some leagues, to want to reform and bring in shorter formats, but it’s something we’ve got to keep working with the leagues on. To persuade them it’s the way forward, to keep people playing.”

Mark Chapman: “The ECB do do a national T20 competition for the 15s. We were lucky enough with my son’s team to get all the way to the national finals, which was an unbelievable day. The ECB give kit to all the clubs, and they have the music and they have the announcers, and the season as a whole was very enjoyable for the fifteens because it was all twenty overs. It was short format cricket.”

Michael Vaughan: “I’ve said for many years on this show that I think all cricket, potentially through a period of two or three months in the summer, every Sunday should be T20 Sunday. It should be the kids in the morning and then in the afternoon your club’s got to put on a festival of cricket which is twenty-over games between the adults and you put on the bouncy castles, the face-painting, the barbeques. You get the community down. Whereas in our time, where you used to go round the leagues and it would be the best teas, I’d want to see which club put on the best T20 on a Sunday. Saturday is for that long format. First team should be fifty-odd overs, but I’d say the second team (with youngsters coming through) shouldn’t be fifty overs. It should be 30-35 overs. Third XI should be 30-35 overs. I mean 120 overs, you probably started at twelve and finished at midnight.”

Tom Harrison: “You come off at about a quarter-to-eight. The other thing to remember here is that Sunday cricket is suffering as a result of this, around the country and we’re working very very hard to bring this to the attention of leagues, saying that there’s huge opportunities here to get people playing Sunday cricket. Short-format Sunday cricket. And actually, I think some leagues are concerned that will further take players away from Saturday league cricket.”

I’m not active in my local club, and so don’t particularly have a strong view on this section. I would suspect that those of you who are involved in club cricket might have some choice words to say about the idea of Tom Harrison or Michael Vaughan telling you which formats you should be playing, and when. My own recollections of playing cricket in my youth are that the games then were twenty overs long. I’m not 100% sure because I was in the under-13 second XI and we rarely made it that far.

My suspicion is that the number of kids dropping out of the system before reaching the senior teams has always been high, but the problem has been exacerbated by the sharp decline in the number of children taking up the game to begin with. All Stars was meant to remedy that problem, but it appears without success. Now the ECB hopes that The Hundred will have a positive effect.

I think the exposure on free-to-air will help a bit, but at the end of the day it appear that the BBC will only be showing eleven The Hundred games plus three T20Is. Fourteen days of free live cricket is a huge improvement on the last fourteen years, but a lot less than we had before that. From 1999 to 2005, Channel 4 showed up to thirty days of live cricket every year.

Mark Chapman: “Is this a difficult sport to lead at the moment, or an easy sport to lead at the moment?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s a privilege. This is a sport I’m incredibly passionate about. It’s my sport. It’s the one that kind of makes me tick as a person. So, for me, it’s a privileged position. I just want to make sure that everything we do is geared around growing this game for future generations.”

Tom Harrison was paid £719,175 last year, having received a 19% pay rise. That places him above the chief executives from the FA, the Lawn Tennis Association, the British Olympic Association, UK Sport, UK Athletics, the Rugby Football League and Sport England. In fact, the only two English counterparts to be paid more than Harrison were the chief executives for the Premier League and the Rugby Football Union. Nothing says “passionate” or “privileged position” to me like squeezing every penny out of a sports body for yourself.

You also have to wonder, looking at his performance in this interview, if there might be someone who would do a better job for much less money. Almost anyone, really…

Congratulations on reaching the end of this ridiculously long post. If you still have the strength, please comment below.

Advertisements

Uncomfortable Realisations and Undeniable Truths

 

Whilst Sky are intent on portraying the English cricket team as pariahs entering a brave new era with their white ball team, they do have advertising slots to sell for the World Cup this year after all, many of us are not feeling quite the same bonhomie with this English cricket team. Chris’ review of the 2nd Test was as great as it was cuttingly brutal, quite simply this England team is the weakest team we have had in living memory and one that is arguably not fit for the Test arena. This is not a surprise to any of us as those who have followed the Test arena for a long time and we know that the spin that is trying to be spun by the powers that be are simply empty words from a clueless board and those that are in cahoots with them; words to try and dupe the public this is a but a mere blip and those in-power do know best. After all, who can forget the insightful words from our so-called Managing Director, that winning or losing doesn’t matter; it’s absolutely about attracting a new ‘audience to the game’

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. “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.”

So that’s that then. The whole art of playing Test Cricket, which has been successful for over 100 years has been deemed not good enough and then redesigned by a clown in an expensive suit who is desperate to embrace the whole hit and giggle side of cricket to make some more cash for himself. Get beaten by an innings, no worries it was an entertaining collapse. Play for the draw, I’m afraid Tom has said no way. This is the new and best ever approach to this format now as prescribed by the ECB. No wonder the England coaches seem even more confused and clueless than ever before.

PHOTO-2019-02-06-22-05-05
Tom Harrison’s new outfit – copyright Danny Frankland

I must admit that I watched very little of the 2nd Test as the result seemed to be beyond doubt after Day 1 when England once again hopelessly collapsed on a pitch doing something. I did turn on to see the late rites being issued by the West Indian bowlers but I admit I was more interested in the post match response than seeing another cravenly poor display from our batsmen and bowlers. Will they try to say it was a one-off incident though they did that last week? Will they admit that they are a poor team playing poor cricket (unlikely)? Will they call out Tom Harrison for being an incompetent idiot who shouldn’t be meddling in the Test Team (hopefully but not going to happen)? Or will they do what they always do and mutter something about working harder and a determination to turn it around in the next Test (of course that’s what they did). Joe Root’s speech was naturally non-committal but the reflections from Nasser & Mike Atherton were the ones that really did get me to giggle, especially when Nasser insightfully exclaimed:

There is a real problem in county cricket, where there is no real depth of top-quality, top-order batsmen. The red-ball game is being played predominantly in April and May, and then right at the end of the summer, on spicy pitches with a Duke’s ball.

“If anything, people are hiding away from batting in the top three. If you look at someone like Jason Roy, who some say is the next cab off the rank, he bats at five for Surrey. England have to go and see Surrey and Alec Stewart and say ‘we’re looking at him for the top of the order, can you get him up to three?’ Why would you want to move up to three in county cricket when it’s moving around? James Vince at Hampshire is slowly sliding down the order where it’s easier to bat.

I can’t have been the only one who laughed in slight disbelief that Nasser had only just grasped this now. Surely the succession of failed openers might have given it away? Or maybe the fact that most of the batsmen are averaging low 30’s with the bat? Or even the fact that England has been trying to cover their batting vulnerabilities by selecting as many all-rounders as they can possibly fit in the team? The fact that Nasser finally pointed out that there is an inherent weakness in our structure is something that most people with any knowledge of the red ball game have been banging on about for years and hardly puts his ‘insight’ in a good shade. We all know that the county cricket is something the ECB would very much like to get rid of, in fact if Test cricket didn’t make them so much money in London, they’d probably like to get rid of that too for some ridiculous bastardization of the game featuring beach balls and unicorns. What was particularly amusing about the interview is that he managed to say all of this without once suggesting that this is the fault of the ECB and Tom Harrison’s ‘let’s all have a slog, it doesn’t matter if we lose’ mentality. The reason why we struggle to find quality players in the county system these days is that access to the game is at an all time low, cricket remains hidden away from the public like some kind of deformed cousin and those that do make it to the county game are being forced to play red ball cricket out of season and are no longer given the time or coaching to hone their skills if they can’t hit the ball out of the park. So why is it again that we struggle to find quality Test batsmen Nasser? The answer is staring you in the face in the form of Tom Harrison and his rest of his not-so merry men, but then again they pay the bills of the Sky commentators, so naturally one can’t go and bite the hand that feeds you. Nasser though wasn’t quite done in making himself look like a prize turnip:

“We have a fundamental problem in England in that we are not producing top-quality number three batsmen. We are not producing a batsman who can play that innings that Darren Bravo played for Windies.”

Really Nasser, I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks for insight like that and in other news the world is still round and the sun continues to heat the earth. One bonus from Nasser’s groundbreaking news though was that this did facilitate one of the best come backs on Twitter ever by a certain Nick Compton, which is worth dealing with the hassle of Twitter on its’ own:

 

Yes that man who was routinely vilified by our friends in the media (and sometimes Alastair Cook when he wanted to get rid of any heat after a poor series) as some kind of weirdo who didn’t fit in with the team nor fit the ethos of the English mentality. How dare he try and bat himself in when some mothers and kids might be watching? A word to the wise Nick, lose the defence and try and slog a quick bowler over cow corner, after all this is Tom’s new vision of English Test cricket. Now I’m not saying that Compton was the answer, but it would have been nice for the media to give him a chance, especially after a match winning knock in Durban second time around, before they decided that his card was marked and that he was ‘not one of us’. Not that this is the first or will be the last time that this has happened.

Mr Harrison mind you hadn’t finished making himself a laughing stock. In his interview with Ian Ward which was aired on Sky during the First Test and I do use interview in the loosest possible sense, Harrison managed to confuse and contradict his own statements in classic fashion. Mind you, Ward’s interview technique more resembled that of a craven apology and could only have been more accommodating if he had been fellating Harrison during the whole interview. I genuinely don’t know how anyone with even a remote sense of cricketing knowledge would have been able to stand there with a straight face when Harrison said:

We have got fantastic county competitions in this country, we’ve got a thriving international game, but what the ECB and I have to do is ensure we’re keeping an eye on the future and making sure we are doing as much as we can to make the game as open, available, and accessible as it can be to wider audiences. “There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that while we have been doing very well with our county competitions, there is much more we can do to get those wider audiences in the game, which are going to be important in the future for this game to thrive throughout this country.

Sure that ‘fantastic’ county competition that you are trying your best to destroy, the one that has been pushed to the very margins of the game so that it is almost impossible for the counties to prepare players with the technique and skill set to thrive at Test Level. Ah yes, the county game that you and your associates are continue to take a knife to in the hope it finally keels over. It’s like praising an Olympic sprinter then sticking a bullet in both his knees, well he still has hands to stumble to the finish line on after all.

We also had the wonderfully timed piece by Ali Martin warning of the creation of Super Counties whilst England were thrashing away to another humiliating defeat – https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/feb/02/pca-hundred-super-counties. I genuinely am not too sure about which thing to be most worried about, firstly that Ali felt he needed to post a piece that was so stunningly obvious to most cricket and county fans or the fact that the PCA has only just woken up to this fact despite the huge red flags. Daryl Mitchell, who is the Chair of the PCA or as it’s known, the ECB’s subservient lapdog, explained:

“You run the risk of the game going towards eight super-counties and end up with a situation where it leads to player bias in terms of recruitment.”

Now what Daryl has said is completely correct, the franchises will no doubt hog their key franchise players to the detriment of other cricket going on concurrently; however my real concern is that the body who are supposed to represent the interests of all English players has only just realised that this competition will no doubt alienate those players who are not picked for the hundred and consequently make all other cricket going on at this time into a 2nd rate competition. Now I may be an old cynic, but surely this is not rocket science to anyone in or outside the current system. The rich will get rich, the poor will get poorer and those counties who are not identified as a ‘franchise’ will be left with a 2nd rate product that no-one wants to watch, all for the hope of  a promised cash windfall of £1.3 million, which will likely get reduced when the Hundred flops horrendously. Certainly, it’s not enough to sell your soul and local team down the river for. The only way that the counties had a chance to stop this unwanted juggernaut then and to a lesser extent now was to stand together and reject the ECB’s model out of hand, yet the only 2 counties who decided to vote against the ECB’s blood money were the unlikely duo of Rod Bransgrove of Hampshire and my own beloved Middlesex. I may support Middlesex but even I wouldn’t trust the Middlesex board to boil an egg let alone lead the fight against the ECB especially as they are so thin skinned that they make Mike Selvey look like he is impervious to criticism. Even now, with the wolves at the door, many of the county chairmen are still convinced that sticking their head in the sand is the best way to approach this threat. Take the Chairman of Somerset, who by all means are extremely competently run county, but equally are the exact model that the ECB would like to rid itself of and his so-called thoughts on the upcoming challenges:

“Like it or not, some counties need the £1.3m a year,” Cornish was quoted as saying by the Somerset County Gazette of the money each club will receive once The Hundred is up and running.”

“We feel working with the ECB is the best way to drive growth in cricket. It is important to remember that it will be the Chairmen of the 18 First Class Counties who take the vote on the subject of the Hundred. “What matters more than anything is the future of the game as a whole. Getting young people to participate, and then nurturing that love of the game is what is key here.”

This is stupidity of another order, like having cattle walk voluntarily into the abattoir to be killed in the hope of receiving some greener grass just beforehand. Somerset are likely to be one of the major losers in this battle and their Chairman is rolling around hoping for his belly to be tickled by his paymasters? It’s quite frankly unbelievable. Once the Hundred is implemented, these counties won’t just be phased into feeder clubs for the so called Big 8, they will simply wound down until they no longer exist anymore. The ECB cares not for the county model especially in the red ball game, which is not making them enough money and doesn’t attract the right sort of cricket fan. All in all, this format is quite frankly an annoyance to the paymasters of English cricket even if the format still remains popular with many of the olders fans. What better ruse than to gradually make them as inaccessible as possible so they eventually are made redundant, so they can change the name of those counties who have a Test Match ground to the ‘Nottingham Ninja’s” or “North London Lions”. This is the new marketing game according to Harrison and his lackeys, after all who doesn’t want to a watch a game where there might be ninjas or lions in it? Talking of Somerset and people associated with the club, I have been an interested spectator following the posts of Andy Nash, who has turned from ex ECB Director and corporate man to social media pariah. Now there is no doubt that Andy is a very intelligent man and that many of his Twitter posts are absolutely spot on, but there is the cynic in me that asks:

  • Why did you not do anything to fight this as a Director of the ECB?
  • Why did Somerset vote for the additional short ball competition if you knew it would irrevocably damage the red ball competition?

Now there might be a very straight forward answer to this, but without knowing the background it seems more than a little hypocritical to take it upon yourself to act as the ‘mouthpiece for change’ even if what you are saying is correct, a bit like an armed robber lecturing a kid who has been caught stealing penny sweets. I have asked this question of Andy more than once on social media without response, so perhaps we can all gather together to ask him this the next time he tweets about the subject. Naturally Andy is very welcome to come onto this platform to share his views and experiences, but I won’t be holding my breath on this.

Of course, I could be missing the point entirely with this post. The English cricket team may resemble the worst team we have had in Test Cricket in living memory, the future for the majority of our domestic game and for the production of Test Players looks darker than it ever has been before and that the fans of the game have been relegated to nothing more than an occasional annoyance and not the right sort of consumer for their product, but all is good and healthy in the English camp. After all, a few pithy marketing campaigns and demanding that the players go out and have a slog (sorry play an aggressive brand of cricket) to keep little Gregory entertained is what our game really needs in the minds of the ECB.

Cricket is staring down the precipice, the only question is will those who have the power to drag it back from the edge, finally wake up before it’s all too late. I’m unfortunately not very hopeful.

 

West Indies v England – 1st Test Review, 2nd Test Preview (of sorts)

I feel like a bit of an absentee landlord at present. It’s a time of pressure at work, the energy at home going into the new puppy, and not a lot of time for much else. But I did get to see some of the last test in between times, as would you believe it, I’m off the drink at present and not socialising after work. But enough of me. There was a test match played, in Barbados, and just as in 2015 England came out on the wrong side of it. It was an absolutely nonsense test match. We had a hard working, grafting day one, a minefield impersonation on day two; a road on day 3; and a load of motorway maintenance men knocking off early on day four. In 1986 this performance would have been followed for demands for naughty boy nets, and the Stokes of his day would probably have naffed off and gone for a drink on a yacht or something. That West Indies side, as we all know, were something special. I don’t care how much you want them to do well, but this current team is ordinary and we all know it, deep down.

So what on earth does that make England? In all truth, I have absolutely no idea. Let me pose you good men and women out there a couple of theoretical questions:

  • If England discovered another KP in their midst, right now, a middle order gun player with the potential to average 50, would they:
    • Make him open the batting
    • Put him at number 3
    • Put him at number 5 and drop one of the all-rounders
    • Make him play umpteen Lions tours until one of the current team get injured
    • See if he can spin it and bat him at 8
  • Who is to blame for this performance:
    • Trevor Bayliss and the incredible invisible Farbrace
    • Joe Root for not carrying the team on his back
    • Ed Smith for muddled selection – even though it probably isn’t him selecting the team (I don’t know)
    • Inadequate preparation – playing glorified beer matches
    • The ECB for existing
    • County Cricket
    • Adil Rashid

One defeat and all the old wounds open again. I was always one to say, when we won, especially away, that we as a blog and as a supporter of cricket should not over-react to a win, and now we should not react to a loss in the same way. The manner of the defeat is probably of greater concern. England seem to have a bit of an issue in matches where they bat second and the team batting first make anything like an adequate score. Leaving aside the fact we scored 77, the upper limit for our second innings, with this team, appears to be 250-300. 77 was an ocean-going disgrace, where well-paid, and about to be even better paid, professional cricketers did a passable impression of a club side. Inadequate shots, insufficient temperament, stupidity and recklessness merged into a maelstrom of incompetence up there with Auckland 18. Sure, have a go at Adil’s bowling, but you are doing it because the elephant in the room is the batting. It got us somewhere in Sri Lanka, but it took us nowhere in Barbados.

There was the sight, at lunch on the fourth day, of a line of ex-England players singing the praises of a Rory Burns 84, having witnessed, the day before (a day I didn’t see much of), Jason Holder make 202 not out (getting that warm Karun Nair feeling during that innings), and Shane Dowrich a super hundred. They were waxing lyrical about tempo, about playing his own game, about how good he looked. It was over-praising what should be the norm for an England team. A player making 80-odd when 180-odd was needed should be noted, but not lauded like it was something to behold. Have our standards slipped so low? This team does not contain a player who has scored a 150 in a test match since July 2017 (Joe Root 190). This team is the living embodiment of the man they claim to disown – it is now, the way they play. Millionaire shots played by players, either high on a rare cohesive series against opponents who look more inadequate by the day, or so lacking in temperament as to be clueless in the face of a sizeable task. Once set 600+ to win you never thought they’d get close, but to lose 8 wickets to Roston Chase, bloody hell. You can’t live by the sword, if you are going to die against a part-timer.

And it’s all about not picking Stuart Broad. That’s your reason. Others bemoan Leach not being picked, but they love Moeen, and Adil provides something different. One would not be surprised if that is Rashid’s last test for a while, if ever, and yet he’s a convenient stick to beat when things go wrong. Broad is a doughty, excellent pro for England, but it may be the new breed sending a message to the old – time goes on, and automatic choice, regardless of performance is not on the cards any more. Hindsight might suggest the choice was wrong, but that’s the “joy” in backing someone who doesn’t play. You can’t be proved wrong.

So who do we pick in Antigua. Heaven only knows. At opener we are stuffed. It’s Burns and Jennings for this tour, like it or lump it. Burns looked quite good in the second dig, true, but some were worried he was still wafting a bit outside off, and that dismissal wasn’t good. But he looked like Hayden compared to Jennings, who seems to have a problem when pitches aren’t dead low ones. If the hosts now prepare two low roads, he may look good, but then we probably won’t find out anything new. Bairstow at three seems mired in a confused state, like the last one left in a pick-up game, knowing no-one else wants number 3. With 5,6,7,8 and 9 not occupied by pure test quality batsmen, Bairstow, who probably is when he’s on his mettle, seems confused to me. He wants to be the keeper, but if you drop Foakes for instance, he can’t bat three. It’s an awful mess. It’s a team stacked with number 6 batsmen, and some of them complicate it by bowling. Takes Stokes at 5, if you must. His bowling is valuable, but we need runs from number 5, and he’s not providing them. At 6 we have Jos. I like Jos, a lot, but he’s got one ton in all his goes, and although an absolute star in limited overs formats, is a luxury in this. If he were 6 in the Aussie teams of the 90s/2000s, he’d be terrifying. In this one, he’s a pretty painting aboard a sinking yacht.

At 7 we have Moeen. Picked for his spin, his batting confounds. He confuses, he annoys. He charms and he flirts with greatness, only to lose one or the other of his skills. I don’t know what the hell to do with him. Neither do England.

Foakes at 8 is too low – and a specialist keeper who can bat pretty well isn’t something we can look at and scorn. But really, has his presence clarified anything. There are two other keepers in the team, three if you count Burns who used to do it, and are any of them in the top five batsmen in English cricket? Yet two play as pure batsmen. It’s like an episode of Soap. When you throw Sam Curran into it, at one turn a budding superstar needed to be given his head, and on the other a neophyte not fit to bowl in test cricket, it’s no wonder England fans are confused. Adil is a whipping boy, Anderson the heroic bowler with no choice but to get grumpy at the lack of support. It’s too much.

Either we let this madness play out, entertain and infuriate us at equal turns, or we see if there is a system we can actually fill. It’s not about guts or lessons learned. If you don’t know not to play like a muppet when the game is lost, but to stick at it, then you don’t deserve to be in international cricket. It’s about being smart, focused and aware. Maybe England took the West Indies lightly. Maybe. That bit them on the arse.

I don’t have a clue about the team for the second test. At least I’m honest.

Which is more than I can say for the Sky team, for the ECB, for Tom “Empty Suit” Harrison and Ian Ward, who, frankly, should be embarrassed at that powder-puff interview where, on about the third question in, the game was truly given away when His Emptiness called him “Wardy”. In Harrison world, everyone was doing fantastic, any question that he couldn’t answer was a “great question”, that we had pathways and cultures in English cricket, that county cricket fans were now great, and not the obsessive oddballs he painted them as a year ago, and that there was clear evidence that the T20 Blast would not attract new fans, but this new nonsense format would. All the while Wardy was smiling and cooing like a flirting mistress. The now retired Charles Sale of the Mail frequently remarked that Ward was too close to the players – but maybe he was wrong. Maybe he was too close to the ECB. Is too close. He’s gone from a potential Athers to a potential Nicholas. That’s not a pathway, or a culture, I’d want to pursue.

There then followed a bizarre rant by Nasser Hussain that the reason youngsters were dropping out of the game at 16-18 was that they wanted to play competitive club cricket, but were being blocked by, and I quote, “old fogeys” who wanted to play friendlies. How charming. I suppose now Cook has gone back to Essex, he can’t have a pop at county cricket. It’s arrant nonsense. The recreational and club game should give a stuff about England and the ECB when it is reciprocated. Club cricket has been in crisis in my area for a while now. It’s not a blockage, it’s teams folding through lack of players, older players packing it in, lifestyle changes, the greater focus on exams in the summer than when I was playing, and a myriad of other things. Having a pop at warm hearted, cricket-loving people who want to do something they enjoy seems bloody typical for professionals who, at the end of their careers, couldn’t stop playing quickly enough – and let me give due respect to Alastair Cook for going back to Essex and playing county cricket. Just pack it in Nasser.

There’s more in them there hills, when it comes to issues I have. I found the social media scene from Barbados more than tedious (oooh, players are batting without helmets and hitting sixes – Pseuds Corner everyone). The reactions to the game probably even more so. I saw the same old tropes, the same old whimsy, the same old trying to be the smartest guy in the room. I saw Rob Key trying to put forward Jason Roy as a test opener. I saw a panel where all three members were either in the ECB hierarchy, or coached in it. This isn’t intellectual curiosity or critical thought. It’s people excusing and covering up. It’s jobs for the boys and girls, and the most important thing is to be a strategic partner, not an honest broker. And as for you, as fans, as lovers of the game. Pay your money, and shut your traps (unless you cheer).

So. I’m happy. I’m even more happy knowing the wintry weather coming our way tomorrow will chill us to the bone. And on that note, we’ll hand the blog over, this week, to thelegglance, for wherever he may be, and you might have guessed, will be a lot warmer than here. I’m not jealous.

I said on Whatsapp I’d rant for a thousand words tonight. It’s coming up to 2000. It’s easy when you try! Comments on the test will probably be best attached to Chris’s piece. If he can fit them in on his busy schedule. I’m not bitter. I’m off to Frankfurt.

Night all.

 

 

Nostradamus And The Ghosts Of Cricket’s Past

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

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

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

harrison&graves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

“In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which was mortally wounded at the SCG on 5th January 2014 and then through the greed of its administrators, was finally killed off on the 8th January 2018. Deeply lamented by an ever-smaller circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P.

N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to The ECB’s headquarters and buried in its vault of gold”

image1

It may just be me, but I remember certain promises of a New England team after the humiliation of 2013/2014 Ashes. The difficult and unpopular South African batsman who had batted at number 4 was removed due to an overwhelming dossier of (soon to be published) evidence. We were promised a new start under the welcome leadership of the darling of English cricket. We were promised that there would be a review and something like that would never happen again. There was a promise of a fresh start with a new, young and exciting team that could unite the nation; plus administrators who acknowledged the pain that the English supporters felt and would take steps to ensure that our voice would be heard and that they would right past wrongs.

At least, that’s what the ECB and many of their complicit associates thought they were saying. Instead, they managed to split a cricketing nation down the middle, insult the fans by saying anyone who didn’t agree with them was from “outside cricket”; who then alienated those fans by hiking up the costs and by refusing to put the interests of the true fans ahead of their own financial lust. Every time they told us they knew what they were doing and to have faith in them, they immediately plummeted to new depths. They first marginalised and then penalised county cricket and many of the counties themselves were soon staring down the barrel of bankruptcy and at the mercy of handouts from their increasingly iron-fisted administrators. Durham were docked 48 points and relegated for having the misfortune of producing a number of young English players whilst having to build an international stadium that the local economy didn’t need or warrant. They’ve seen participation in the sport disappear to an all time low thanks to hiding it away on pay for TV and investing the princely sum of £2.5 million for grass-roots cricket. They’ve turned a significant number of loyal England fans against the team and away from cricket who in all likelihood will never return to the sport.

The ECB did all this and for what? A mediocre white ball team and a Test team that has once again been humiliated in Australia, after being humiliated in India, with a team lacking in basic talent and a future pipeline that resembles a dry well . Well done to the ECB, you’ve achieved so much in the last 4 years that many others who were deliberately trying to destabilise the sport wouldn’t be able to do in 10 years. I hope you’re proud.

So after this embarrassment of a series, those few fans that remain are waiting for what comes next, yet we all know what comes next – nothing. Nothing at all. I’ve seen many of the media say that we shouldn’t ‘sweep this under the carpet’ after this series’ calamity yet that’s exactly what will happen again. Boycott had some good questions at the end of the series but took out his frustrations out on the wrong person in the absence of any management. Instead, if lucky we may get the odd staged interview where Tom Harrison dictates to us why English cricket is in a such a good state of health. We may get the odd dissenting question from the likes of Jonathan Agnew (whose last interview was more Graham Norton than Jeremy Paxman), yet I’m sure Harrison will be allowed once again to gloss over these things and nothing will be said or done, after all it’s not particularly in the interest of the media to shoot the golden goose.

Yes there have been exceptions, George Dobell has posted some fine and cutting articles about administrators both in this series and before, but what about the rest of them? The fact that some of the ‘establishments of the media’ are talking about a need for change only now just makes me laugh. Literally where have you been for the past 4 years? It’s been staring you in the face all that time and you have only just woken up and smelled the coffee? If that’s your idea of hard hitting journalism, then perhaps you should consider a career at the Cricket Paper?

Naturally, there will those that blame the team, the coaches, the selectors and probably  the boogie and yes, all of these need to share in some of the responsibility (well perhaps not the boogie, but it has often proved to be an efficient scapegoat in the past). The best thing that could be said about the team is that they kept trying their best to the end, though the worst that could also be levelled at them is that they are a talentless bunch of egotists who can’t handle their alcohol. The coaches have hardly covered themselves in glory either, Trevor Bayliss couldn’t find most of the counties if you gave him a Sat Nav, let alone identify most of their players. Farbrace seems to appear when things are going well, has a large chuckle with the media and hides when they’re not. Ramprakash has been given a contract extension when half the team don’t seem to know which side of the bat to hold and I’m not even sure who our bowling coach is these days! As for the selectors, well let’s just say you could fill a bag with the name of every cricketer in county cricket and pick the team at random and they’d probably be more successful than most of England’s selection in the past 4 years. It’s a mess and whilst the above should all cop their side of the blame, it’s our four protagonists who deserve the most attention and the most recrimination. It’s these four in particular that have taken our once beloved sport and brought it to its knees.

I’m not going to focus on Strauss too heavily as rightly his focus has to be the health of his wife at the moment. Cancer is an awful illness and looking after her and the whole family must take priority over everything else. Another reason that I’m not focusing too much on Strauss is that he is simply the Company Man, employed by those above him to do what they say and to do it in the correct manner. There was talk before his appointment about the role being one where he would have the opportunity to make changes to the structure of the English game to ensure success in all formats and if that was indeed his mantra, then he has failed spectacularly.  My own personal view at the time was that Strauss was the hired hand: get rid of KP for good and be the face of the regime so that no-one looks too closely at what’s going on behind the scenes.  Not a lot has changed my opinion in that regard.

Sure I dislike Director Comma immensely especially by the way that he is able to embrace leaving his faculties at the door so that he can have a fairly cushy job of giving ‘short buzzword-loaded statements’ that the media will lap up in exchange for being part of the Establishment. In truth though, Strauss was part of the establishment long before he retired. He was from the right type of family, had the right look and was willing to adapt to situations that suited him at the time and then to dump those no longer useful. Sure, the ECB would’ve liked Strauss to have a team performing on the pitch to remove any investigation about what was going on behind the scenes but that never was a mandate. The mandate all along was keep the media happy and get the punters paying whilst saying the ‘the right thing’. It is impossible to tell whether Strauss would have copped much heat after this disastrous series if his personal circumstances were different, but I certainly have my doubts, after all why would the ECB want to remove their head boy?

It can also be rightly pointed out that all of this started way before 2014, under the stewardship of a certain Giles Clarke. Clarke is without the doubt the bogeyman of English cricket, a man who has always been so singular in his own quest for power and the riches that come with it that he isn’t worried about destroying anything in his way. I know a few of the hacks had pieces on Clarke that never made their way to print, such has been the fear of offending him and his lawyers. One can quite easily recall his reaction to Lawrence Booth after a mildly critical piece appeared in the Wisden Almanack alongside his haranguing of former ICC President Ehsan Mani at the same gala dinner. Whilst no-one in the press had the cojones to actually quote what Clarke said to either Booth or Mani (I’m guessing it wasn’t that he was a ‘‘man of great judgment’ unlike Paul Downton); however Mani acerbically commented afterwards that:

‘I’m very used to Giles being utterly irrational. He always thinks it’s just about him when there’s a far bigger picture of three countries sharing 52 per cent of income between them.’

Giles, we know – much like some of those who have followed him into power – was always about the commercials and pretty much stuff everything else. He got into bed with a soon to be convicted criminal – Alan Stanford, strengthened ties with Sky and took more pleasure in boasting that he had increased the ECB’s revenues up to £140 million than he did speaking about on the field success. Clarke created the revenue model whereby counties had to bid for Test Matches rather than the ECB distributing them as this lowered the ECB’s risk and accountability for a poor attendance or rain ruined Test. Indeed it was reported in the Telegraph some time ago:

“Giles’s agenda was all about financial imperatives, keeping the counties alive,” says one former county chief executive, who preferred not to be named. “He was very clever at making sure that he kept at least 10 of the 18 onside, and he was re-elected twice on that platform. Plus, some people became too scared to vote against him. If they did so and didn’t win, he found out, and he was a great one for punishing you.”

“Some people feared he wouldn’t give them a winter cash-flow loan [which many of the counties use to keep the creditors off their backs] or an international match.”

Ah yes, the fear factor the Clarke actively cultivated is well and clearly shown by the above. Back me or I take the money away and give it to someone else who will. It was Clarke’s obsession with money and power that laid the groundwork for the carve up of cricket and the absolutely despicable  “Big Three” revenue agreement, though it seems that Clarke had very little intention of sharing this money with the wider English Cricket community, this was the ECB’s money after all.  Clarke failed to get his hands on the most powerful job of all in world cricket, yet he’s still there, hovering around the halls of the ICC and ECB and no doubt leaning on those in the front line to carry out his mandate. I could write many more words about Clarke, but many of these have been written before and there are some new boys in town ready to take up the mantle.

Then we come on to Colin Graves, either a bumbling fool who has got in far too deep than he thought or some kind of evil genius that the world has never seen before. I’m genuinely torn between the two statements personally because he has shown both sides of this at times, sometimes even in the same press conference. We all know that Colin’s favourite word is mediocre (though surprisingly not when talking about the England Test team), West Indies cricket is mediocre, our current T20 competition is mediocre, I would probably guess that he describes lunch in the long room at Lords mediocre. Surprisingly enough, the reaction to this wasn’t what he had anticipated (i.e. pissing people off and motivating the opposition). However we have also seen a more cut-throat side from Graves, marginalising many of the counties that helped him come to power and survive through his initial appointment when Clarke still had a say on English cricket. He then went completely postal on Durham, a county that had unfortunately no rich benefactor and who were at the mercy of the ECB.  One only has to remember that this certain Colin Graves had helped Yorkshire out of a massive financial hole with a number of loans in the past as County Chairman – conflict of interest, what conflict of interest sir? This is the man, who has single handedly led the charge for a franchise based T20 when there was no support from the fans or the counties and looks to be around 5 years too late to make a major difference. This is the man who has decided to relegate red ball cricket to the very margins of the county season and then wonder why our Test team continues to fall apart when not faced with green seaming pitches. Still Graves is always good for the odd catch-all statement:

‘Everyone is very disappointed. Everyone gave their all, but we have to do things better going forward. There is no specific review.’

‘We have Andrew Strauss as MD of the England team and [ECB chief executive] Tom Harrison in charge, and I trust them completely to make the right decisions. There will be no witch hunt. We have to look at it and see how we can improve, so in four years’ time we are better placed to win [in Australia] than we were this time.’

Ah yes, no witch hunt this time, after all we’ve only been thrashed 4-0 this time with only a dead dog of a pitch in Melbourne saving us from a whitewash and since there’s no Kevin Pietersen to ‘sort out,’ then we can rightly sweep it under the carpet. And Colin, whilst you’re there, I’ve got news for you: if you truly believe that Director Comma and the Empty Suit that is Harrison (more on him later) are deserving of trust to make the right decisions for English Cricket, then you are even more deluded than I even thought. Colin Graves: unfortunate idiot or world class baddie?  I guess the answer will be left to the cricket historians…

Finally this brings us on to the Empty Suit, Tom Harrison – the bean counter, the money man and the dangerous one. Let me just make this abundantly clear, Tom Harrison would organise a game of cricket on the moon, with a basketball and flippers if it made him some extra money. Tom Harrison does not care one jot about the game of cricket, the development of youngsters, grass roots cricket, how the Test team performs and what the future of English cricket will look like. As far as he is concerned, cricket and those who love it are just an unfortunate annoyance that sometimes gets in the way of him making money.  Nothing and I mean nothing else matters. NOT ONE SINGLE BIT. Whereas Downton was both incompetent and stupid, Harrison is unfortunately highly competent in his singular goal of making cash and will ruthlessly destroy those who dare get in his way. I have published this a couple of times in the last week or so, but let’s just look at this statement one more time:

The health of the game is more than just Ashes series overseas.  We’ve had a successful entry into the broadcast rights market out of which we have secured the financial future of the game until 2024.

“We are in a process of delivering cricket across three formats. They’re making huge strides across the white-ball game, up to a place where we’re winning 70% or so of our white-ball matches – the ODI side in particular – and the T20 side is making good progress.”

In other words, yes we’re crap but look at the money, just look at it!  Look how much money I made out of Sky and everybody else! Yes, Harrison deserves some credit for selling a pretty crap product to Sky and others for £1.1 billion from 2020 to the end of 2024, but equally it would have been pretty embarrassing if he hadn’t managed to get a significant cost increase bearing in mind his background in selling TV rights.  Still even with the ECB breathing a huge sigh of belief, having postponed the inevitable financial precipice until 2024, Harrison once again let slip his key motivations:

‘You’re not thinking about the deal that you’re doing, you’re always thinking about the next deal.’

Stop me if I’m wrong, but it appears that the future of English cricket has been solely handed over to a greedy, ruthless, ex-car salesman type who has masqueraded as the answer to all of the ECB’s prayers. The snake oil salesman, who has rocked up from nowhere with supposedly all of the answers and none of the nasty drawbacks, does it remind anybody of someone else??

1057288

And there we have it folks, we don’t matter, because once the next generation has finally discovered the note with ‘there’s no money left’ our four protagonists will be long gone with their riches and so will be what’s left of the money.  The game will be up, every single decision that the ECB has made during the last four years has ensured that English cricket in the future will be nothing but a rotting carcass, mourned by the few but largely forgotten by the majority and we have Clarke, Strauss, Graves and Harrison to thank for this.

I thought after 2014 the ECB had reached the nadir, covering up a truly despicable performance, sacking our best player, labelling anyone not employed by the ECB as outside cricket and showing almost no regard for the fans  Unfortunately I was wrong, this was just the start. The ECB have done all of this and more over the past years, and whilst we were furious four years ago, this time there is simply no-one around that cares enough anymore. And this is their most damning failure of them all.

With No Emotion, You Can Really Make My Head Spin

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
4 Day Test Cricket Would Have Saved Us – And Given Us A True Boring Game

OK. I went off one one last night. As the lagging keyboard on the laptop got worse, so my anger rose. These people, these so called guardians of the game, transient here today gone tomorrow sorts, convinced of their own views to such an extent that they couldn’t give a shit what you think, are actively floating the four day test idea. More than actively floating it, they’ve put a date on it (the year after an Ashes series). I have had a brief read of an article on Cricinfo which suggests this four day idea isn’t particularly new:

The four-day idea has been championed since 2003 by Andrew Wildblood. “Don’t be scared to fail. We’re going to die wondering if we don’t do something soon”

Andrew Wildblood? No, me neither. It seems as though he was a former senior vice-president for International Management Group. Now I wonder who worked there? Who might be in a position of power?

Tom was Senior Vice President for the leading international sports agency IMG…

Original old groupthink, eh. But importantly, according to Lawrence Booth in the Mail today, Costcutter Colin is claiming considerable credit, as he has been its champion. He consulted no-one I know of in the lead up to floating this nonsense, has not consulted anyone I know of since then, and if form goes its way, has no intention of meaningful consultancy with anyone, certainly not paying customers, before we see a final decision.

I had little hope for both these two when they came to power. Yes, Downton and Clarke are a pairing not to yearn for, in any way, but both were bumbling morons with little to suggest they were going to go headlong into a pitched battle with the existing customer base outside a difficult winter and a disinterested player. After that war, and the disaster at the 2015 World Cup both had shown the scars and were taken from the frontline. We heard plenty of nonsense, but good grief, they didn’t think they could do everything.

Harrison shows all the traits of a zealot. Graves shows all the signs of a dictator. Empowered by making the county turkeys vote for Christmas they weren’t going to stop at that. Where those who loved the ECB’s bastard child, the Blast, were labelled as obsessives by these charlatans, now we will see the term “traditionalist” used as an insult. If you quite like your five day tests, with the capacity to absorb some loss of time, to enable results on all forms of wickets, where roads have to be true roads, and still can provide some excitement, then you will gradually be filed under the Luddite category, and not being innovative, flexible or with the times. We aren’t suddenly going to get four day 420 over test matches. Leave off. We’ll get four day 360 over tests if we are lucky. We’ll make the game more exciting by having all the things that get disparaged in county games of yore. Limited first innings. Declarations of a ridiculous nature. The higher the level of the sport, the less teams are prepared to lose in the pursuit of a win, especially in an Ashes series, for example.

So let’s take a look at the quotes in the Guardian I posted last night.

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.”

ECB does have a firm position. Both Graves and Empty Suit want them. They put the position, get the others to agree, usually with coercion and meaningless consultation and only something that might cost them their jobs can stop them. The weasel words in this are not those after the first 10. It’s the first 10. No-one I can recall, has really called for 4 day test matches. Many many more have called for a Test Championship, but somehow, some way, a format  has never stuck, and ironically one of the arguments against is “what if the Final is a draw”? Well, to make that event less likely, let’s shorten the game. That should work. Hey, as soon as the Gruesome Twosome open their traps, it’s game on.

It’s not shortening test matches, it’s “compact scheduling”. Or as I call it, taking your punters for mugs. And as far as these people are concerned, they’ve already carried out their “careful consideration”. They don’t just put these things out there by chance. They get a journo, in the same stable as Shiny Toy, an advocate for all these ECB ideas, to put it out there. We have had enough experience of Nick Hoult, a top journo, to know he doesn’t make this shit up. These things seem to be done for a reason. I’d plump for kite flying.

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.

I’d be more impressed with your commitment to consultation if you hadn’t already flagged what you want, haven’t got a firm proposal to put to anyone on over rates, floated this two years ago, been told what was wrong with it, and still have no clue what to do, but you plough on regardless because, let’s be frank, you need your space for the new T20 competition that has hardly grabbed the imagination because we don’t really know how you intend to make it work. Meanwhile you’ve signed a massive deal with Sky who aren’t going to be too impressed if “compact scheduling” means less international cricket. So what precisely are you going to consult with us. A fait accompli from the brains of IMG, in alliance with ISM, and flogged to you by a Costcutter genius. People who are in their posts with not one vote cast by the paying public. Happy days, eh?

Also, when someone innovates and drives accessibility, my hand gets even tighter over my wallet.

Let’s finish with the final words of the ECB on this matter.

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

The Big Three money grab never really happened, did it?

Scheduling 15 Ashes tests in 2 years never really happened, did it?

L’Affaire Pietersen never really happened, did it?

Playing injured bowlers never really happened, did it?

If they are committed to it, Lord help us.

Actually, it’s not the end. I can’t let this lie…

Last year Graves said about four-day Tests: “Every Test match would start on a Thursday, with Thursday and Friday being corporate days and then Saturday and Sunday the family days.

There’s your sporting leader (and sounds like there’s plenty of open-mindedness), right there. Care about those corporates, let the rest fend for themselves. It’s as if the “family” days are where these keen fans can take over those wonderful corporate facilities, and stuff you ordinary Joe if you want to be there for the first two days. I can’t believe a man steeped in cricket could ever think like that. The first two days are for low-grade bribery, the last two are for the peasants. What a leader. What a clown.

 

“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/

Eoin, T20, ECB, ICC, Tired….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off The Deep End / Long Run – Episode 2

Come hither, Al, and look at my soul....
Come hither, Al, and look at my soul….

Having started the review of the Summer with the supposed closure of the KP issue, the conclusion of my piece was that it really wasn’t about KP any more. He’ll forever be the Keyser Soze of English cricket. Lack trust and you’ll be treated like KP. Step out of line with the big cheeses and you see what the consequences are. No-one I know thinks KP is a saint. We think he’s just a damn fine batsman dropped as part of a vendetta, and no exposition of “good environments” “team culture” and “playing for the shirt” will persuade me otherwise.

So the interesting part is the source of the vendetta, and what it could mean for other parts of the cricketing world. As we will recall, Colin Graves came in to take over from Giles Clarke as Chairman of the ECB. There was silent rejoicing as many (NOT ME) thought this would see exit stage left for the true pariah of English cricket. No chance. These people don’t go quietly, and while the ICC role was very much spun as “ceremonial” it has been anything but. So, after this reasonably lengthy introduction, let’s get the ball rolling with Part 2 of my Off The Deep End/Long Run series…

2. Giles Clarke and the Curious Case Of The Silenced Yorkshireman

I’ll say it up front. Giles Clarke is still, very much, the main man in the ECB. Others may pretend otherwise, but they have not been allowed their own free hand, and it has showed. Colin Graves was never the shy sort when he held the reins at Yorkshire, but suddenly, one incident under his belt, and he’s become mute. People might be looking for him in the legendary cupboard Paul Downton was bundled in to last Summer.

Clarke’s anger was then compounded by the speech given at the Wisden dinner at Lord’s on Wednesday night by Ehsan Mani, a former president of the International Cricket Council, who made no direct reference to the Big Three but rather pleaded the case of the other seven Test-playing countries. “Giles became more and more agitated,” according to one eyewitness.

Scyld Berry – 9 April 2015

Harrison and Graves sacked the unfairly derided Paul Downton but at least Strauss’s predecessor had been straight, at least he told Pietersen where he stood and attempted to explain it before lawyers stopped him.

Paul Newman – 12 May 2015

The above two quotes seem to capture the moods and swings of the ECB hierarchy. Giles Clarke still knocking about, still arrogance personfied, even with his reign apparantly coming to an end; Harrison somewhere between the two extremes.

I’ve had a ton of people, a ton of them, tell me that cricket administration is dull and it’s only the team that matters. Therefore, because we won the Ashes in a huge surprise, can’t we just be happy? I’d be doing the blog a huge disservice if I pretended that my heart was filled with joy, but I do, honestly, get those that feel that way. In 2005 I didn’t give a toss who ran the sport, and how they ran it. I knew India held the power, because they held the money, and was sort of resigned to the future. But the cricket team took our eyes away from this because it was a joy to watch, and, importantly from the outside, the ECB didn’t seek to make the team it’s personal window on the world. Importantly, for me, at that time the England team were playing for the public. Now, a good deal of me feels it is playing for the ECB. It is a massively important distinction.

2014, and the early part of this year, cannot just be swept under the carpet as a mistake – and we aren’t even getting on to the international issues in full here, because that’s for another long ramble. I’m not the forgiving type when it seems to me that what we have here is no real change of insight, just of personnel. There was great rejoicing in the parish when it appeared that Clarke had been forced to exit the stage, and Costcutter Champion Colin would move into the ascendant. Great suspicions were raised at Chez Dmitri because Giles Clarke never seemed the sort to be pushed upstairs into irrelevance. Whichever position he held, he seemed the type to want to control it. Sure enough he has taken on his new Presidency role with delicious abandon. He’s left the knotty problems of the Shires to Twinkling Tom H, and kept his dead hand firmly on the international tiller. Any doubts about this were surely sunk during the Colin Graves attempted rapprochement to KP phase.

It is important to state, from the outset, that in the words of a certain reporter, I’m about to indulge in a bit of guesswork. In the absence of anyone telling me otherwise, and I am perfectly willing to correct these assumptions when someone tells me what really happened, let me make some educated hypotheses.

I wanted a picture of Colin, but Giles wouldn't give us the key.
I wanted a picture of Colin, but Giles wouldn’t give us the key.

The man who vetoed Kevin Pietersen’s potential re-admittance into the England team was Giles Clarke. In my view that is because he has a visceral hatred of him, that is no doubt reciprocated. KP said that three people needed to go before he had a chance to come back. One of those named was Giles Clarke. People then read into the fact that Graves had gone all in with the rapprochement, to say that Clarke was the final piece of the jigsaw gone and now the move could be made. I never believed it for a minute. There were too many press stories to indicate that as soon as Graves said what he said saying “nothing has changed at the ECB”. Far far too many. The policy hadn’t changed and some people were very keen to say it pre- and post- Downton.

Now, as a happy coincidence, Andrew Strauss was appointed as the new Comma, England Cricket, and he’d have no trouble in pulling the trigger on KP. Suspicion was that he was the only one of the potential candidates who would be perfectly content to adhere to the ECB pre-conditions. Others pulled out of the race, or weren’t seriously considered. Strauss fit the bill in many ways, and he did what all top execs seem to want to do when they come in – make big decisions, make big statements. I’m sure Giles was well pleased. Not only was Strauss pursuing the Clarke line, it also, undoubtedly, put Colin Graves in his place. Instead of under the old regime, where the head of the ECB was very public (Clarke) and his CEO took a back seat (Collier), now we have a still public President (Clarke) an emasculated, silent head (Graves) and a prominent, Downtonian CEO (Harrison). It’s progress, but not as we know it.

But does this matter outside of my own narrow KP prism? Probably not, to most, but it was interesting to see the control the ECB has over the sport. Paul Downton is now a laughable footnote in sports administration, and yes, some of what I said was probably a bit cruel, and lessons have been learned to a degree. The most important thing, over and above true ability, was the need for the ECB not to be a figure of fun this year, but instead a more disciplined, unified entity. In some regards it worked. Although I’m not a fan of the old rebranding and such forth, the slick ECB Twitter feed for the England team worked for many. It was hard for this cynical old sod to look past the pure corporatism of the feed, but it did show an intention to engage a bit more – if only it didn’t seem to take it’s modus operandi from Pravda. There’s also no doubt that the efforts the players made, no doubt at the behest of the authorities, to spend more time with the fans instead of being totally aloof also worked. It is frequently said that this isn’t a bad bunch of guys at all. That’s good that that is happening. It works.

But behind this, you just get the nagging feeling that nothing has changed in the corridors of power. It may be that Clarke’s powers are over-estimated by me, but the reaction to Mike Brearley’s comments on the Olympics, again, it seemed, echoing the thoughts of Graves and Harrison, by Clarke seemed to indicate that our old Chairman was still wielding the might. Brearley was made to climb-down, humiliatingly, and the MCC were also later seen to not offer a screening of Death of a Gentleman to its members in something that was no doubt a total coincidence.

Colin Graves is known by me only for a rant he had at Yorkshire over poor performances a few years back. It put his “professional Yorkshireman” persona in full view. In his accession to the throne at the top of the ECB tree (supposedly) he did nothing to dispel his “professional Yorkshireman” persona. There was always the nagging thought that Graves was a party to all the decisions made prior to his appointment as Chairman, so would there be much change? Leaks seem to have been less plentiful since he arrived (so do we draw conclusions from that), but also we’ve seen less of him, and heard virtually nothing. Instead the void appears to have been filled, in part, by Tom Harrison.

This sort of thing sort of happens. Nothing to see here. Move on.
This sort of thing sort of happens. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Now, you lot knew what I thought of Paul Downton. Downton was a lightweight, and on that Thursday night when I stupidly downloaded his interview with Aggers and then listened to it after a great leaving do while “lagered up” it was the casual manner in which he outline how he was recruited that got me. It was as if it was an old boys club and it was his turn to have a tap on the shoulder. The manner of his appointment should have been the source of investigation. Head hunters, do you fancy it, cosy little internal interview, and before you know it he’s wandering off to Australia, sacking one of our best players, hiding from view, giving early off the record briefings, and being called impressive, and showing “aplomb” while many of us sat aghast that he appeared massively out of his depth. What stuck in my craw, as in the episode outlined in the initial picture, was that such a terrible error of judgement wasn’t put on those who made the absolutely nonsensical decisions. No top heads rolled. None.

What insight has there been from those connected to the sport through their media links into this nightmare? Downton was appalling. Utterly useless. But it’s as if “awwww shucks, anyone can make a mistake” is OK with a governing body that actually never owns up to one. That’s the culture up there, and in my view it comes right from Clarke – every interview he conducts is dripping with a superiority complex, looking down on the proles.

Pipe Down....
Pipe Down….

However, where his dripping condescenion transcends boundaries, is when he is challenged, and certainly by people he deems as not worthy (we’ll deal with some of this in the next piece). An example comes from some reading I’ve been enjoying of old Wisden Cricketer magazines and originates before Clarke ascended to power. At the time David Morgan was Chairman of the ECB and Clarke was a loyal footsoldier in charge of negotiating TV rights, and doing his best to make people know he was doing it. Clarke was clearly jostling for position, and we know the outcome. Morgan was up for re-election and there were two groups sticking their oar in about county cricket. One, headed by Atherton and Bob Willis couldn’t be attacked, without looking a bit daft yourself. Clarke was OK ignoring thise because, with few exceptions, these guys know that former players (and certainly ones with Sky/newspapers for a fair time, aren’t going to take the short cut to governing, so the ECB can play a straight bat. But for outsiders like Jonathan Marland. and let us leave his motives out of it at this time, well Giles can turn on the charm:

It’s the same sort of attitude we saw in Death of a Gentleman (and, as I said earlier, more of that later). At the time the counties thought Clarke was their guy. By the end, by all repute, he wasn’t. Giles isn’t going to be constrained by anything so small as county cricket. He has ambitions to be head of the ICC. Only in England.

An empty suit, by pure coincidence
An empty suit, by pure coincidence

Giles was still on watch when our latest newbie appointment was made. Tom Harrison was made CEO and the reputation was based more on his ability to negotiate TV contracts and deal with high-rollers while at IMG than a lack lustre country cricket career. While David Collier had been firmly placed in the cupboard under the stairs (and off the record the man blamed for Stanford) Tom would probably only visit that cupboard to leave his vampire cape. For in my view, there is something of the night in Mr Harrison. But never fear for today Bunkers has said….

Both Harrison and Strauss were impressive that day. Preposterously young men by the normal standards of cricket administration, they spoke with conviction and passion.

Harrison apologised for the woeful fashion in which the dismissal of Peter Moores, an estimable coach and a dignified man who happened to be in the wrong job, had been handled. Strauss explained authoritatively why there was no place for Kevin Pietersen in the England team. Their performances disguised the shambles rather than eradicated it.

I’d run a mile the minute Bunkers puts me in his Impressive Gang. You see, while people like Bunkers and the media gang fall for a sharp line, a snappy suit, a borderline impressive CV and making decisions they agree with, those of us who don”t see a media automoton, an empty suit, a CV lacking in nous and decisions that they made handled appallingly!!!!!

What’s been seriously lacking has been the media sorts who care more for the disguising of shambles than actually nailing them for their mistakes, or heaven forfend, telling us at the appropriate time how they happened! Instead, all we got was initial reinforcement, as if actually having to prove you have ability is an additional extra. When things go right, as it did with the Ashes this year, Andrew Strauss is labelled as some sort of genius, when you have to actually ask “what did he do?” The approach does seem to be to congratulate the weatherman for a spell of sunny weather.

No, the media liked Strauss for keeping the troublesome one clearly on the outside, thought it took guts (no, it really didn’t – the gusty call would have been to recall him, because we can all imagine THAT press coverage. I think we’d be picking Newman’s exploded head up now!), when the clear line to take from the ECB was no. No you shouldn’t pick HIM. There wasn’t a lot of support, if truth be told for the outside one. So no, Strauss behaved as expected….

Meanwhile, though, if you even think of ordering the people who select the teams to do so on merit, you know, the old fashioned way, then you can expect this… Newman’s head stayed safely unexploded, and he had a new figure of fun. He was never really that gutsy about old Giles, was he?

Frustration was clear in the voices of Peter Moores and Alastair Cook as they fended off repeated enquiries about Kevin Pietersen’s future more than a year after he had seemingly been banished from international cricket for good.

Well, there is only one person to blame — and that is Colin Graves. The incoming ECB chairman has been responsible for the mixed messages that leave the England team in as big a state of turmoil and internal rebellion as ever.

Graves has forged an excellent reputation in English cricket as chairman of Yorkshire for the way he bankrolled and transformed the club, but his initial forays into the international game have been little short of an embarrassment.

Strauss and Harrison make the call, the right call in the minds of those reporting on the game, and it’s given a nice little sheen. They are clearing up the mess created by Colin Graves. Newman’s piece at the time is a masterpiece in blaming Graves, exonerating Strauss and Harrison and digging a bit more at KP (while laughably offering sympathy). Graves was thrown under the bus, and we’ve heard nothing from Costcutter Col  since. He seems to exist only as a fall guy. Unlike Clarke, he appears to take it lying down. He’s the man who lives in Downton’s cupboard.

The KP issue may be over, but the ECB have major issues over county cricket (and more of that later too). In the meantime, Clarke is allowed to represent the ECB overseas. His most memorable appearance this year, which probably pre-dates the changeover in role, is Clarke’s cameo performance in Death of a Gentleman. It is to this film that I’ll move on to the next instalment of Off The Deep End…

A Simply Charming Man
A Simply Charming Man

3. The Death Of A Gentleman, The Temerity Of Hope