The Day After the Day After Tomorrow

Predicting the future is problematic, it’s much easier to predict the past, although Twitter users might be an example of that not being entirely the case. In wider life there seems to be consensus that while the question of whether the pandemic will make material lasting changes is an open one, it almost certainly has accelerated existing trends – such things as the decline of cash or the continued rise of online over physical retail.

Cricket seems little different – there is no reason to assume that this last year will cause wild changes in itself, but an acceleration of what was coming anyway, that’s a different matter.

Television deals are at the heart of the future and the present, and have been the principal driver of the changes over the last 10 years, whatever the disingenous pontifications from governing bodies about trying to engage people in the sport as more than exploitable consumers. The shortening of formats, first to T20 and then to 10 over equivalents or the Hundred are all about packaging the game into compact segments that fit into programming and allow advertising to be maximised. India is undoubtedly the principal power behind this, because their financial muscle is greater than just about everyone else put together. The rise of the IPL to not just be the biggest short form tournament, but the priority for the game full stop has been inexorable, and the players have been part of that for their own financial reasons. In all cases, it’s not something to particularly blame anyone for, it’s merely a reflection of desires that coincide and aims that correlate – the belief in some quarters that professional cricketers with a short career should sacrifice their ability to earn for the sake of tradition is naive at best. Thus the expectation has to be that not only will the IPL continue, but that it will become ever more central to the global game.

The Hundred is the ECB’s attempt to muscle in on the same thing, having blown their chance of making T20 their central selling point to the world game. There are endless problems with the assumption behind that. Globally, the difference between 16.4 overs and 20 is so minimal as to be not worthy of further debate, and the ever lengthening duration of IPL and Big Bash T20 matches to up to 4 hours implies that the purported domestic desire to have a very short game isn’t one entirely shared elsewhere – perhaps short enough is sufficient. That doesn’t mean in itself that it can’t be a domestic success, but the wish the ECB have for it to be a global phenomenon looks hamstrung from the start. Gimmickry has a place in all sports, irritating as many find it, but a successful gimmick is one that does draw people in, that does appear to have a value. The Hundred lacks this entirely, the hundred balls of an innings doesn’t even work as a deception.

It’s not unreasonable to believe that the Hundred will be a domestic option, and one with limited expansionary appeal. The argument made in its favour that it’s still cricket, and that the difference between it and T20 is sufficiently small for it to have sporting integrity is precisely the reason it’s unlikely to truly take off – why abandon the investment in T20 for a game that offers little extra? If The Hundred does remain an entirely domestic concept, it’s hard to see how it has a long term future when everyone else prefers the ironically more traditional T20. All new things attract attention initially, and whatever the complaints about it, it will have that first flush of attraction as something new. The problem it has is beyond that, years three and four. There comes a time when the question will be asked what the point of it is, and whether a T20 tournament would work better. The Hundred itself looks doomed in the longer term, though it may serve its purpose if it garners sufficient commercial attention to cause that debate to happen.

The 50 over form of the game will continue to be squeezed, but it remains a viable option because it still attracts strong crowds and decent quantities of sponsorship and advertising money. There may be experiments made to widen the differential between it and T20, such as four innings of 25 overs, but it is a format that isn’t particularly broken. The attitude towards it may change somewhat as T20 becomes ever more dominant, indeed 50 over cricket may come to be seen as a long form of the game, which has a certain irony, because for club cricketers around much of the world (there are exceptions) that’s exactly what it is and what it always has been, even if concepts such as winning or losing draws offer a slight level of nuance – though note those kinds of playing rules are on the decline.

Where that leaves Test cricket is another matter. The World Test Championship has been positioned as a way of creating context for Test cricket in order to give the bilateral series meaning. It’s always been a slightly confused position – not because it’s a bad idea, far from it, but because the endless ODI bilaterals lack any meaning whatever, yet continue unabated because of the financial return created by them. There are of course tournaments such as the World Cup, but that’s not really the rationale behind holding so many bilateral series, or they would be considered no more relevant than an international football friendly with all the irritation they cause. Cricket is, and always has been different (and has similarities to international rugby in this regard) in that a match has inherent value in itself, and doesn’t necessarily need that bigger context for everything. That doesn’t mean for a single momoment that tournaments like a World Cup aren’t necessary, they both are, and are wonderful things in themselves, albeit the formats of such things are another question. Therefore a World Test Championship can be both a good thing in itself and also a fig leaf that doesn’t address the structural challenges being faced. There is a suspicion that Test series are often organised as a necessary evil rather than something to be embraced as justified and attractive in themselves, entirely for those financial reasons. Or to put it another way, if Test matches provided strong revenue streams for every board, there would be more of them – England don’t play lots of Test cricket because the ECB adore five day cricket. If there was serious money at hand, the players would be less inclined to abandon the Test arena for the more lucrative white ball forms of the game. The decline of Test cricket in favour of white ball cricket is not because of a particular dislike of that form of the game for sporting reasons.

There is no reason to assume this will change in the years to come, rather precisely the opposite. Countries like England play a lot of Test cricket because, at present at least, that is the largest level of spectators – and thus commercial – interest in the game. With big crowds and a big TV deal that has included, in fact focused, on Test cricket, it has been the core of the income of the professional game. It’s not the case elsewhere, and to highlight that particularly, the newer international countries such as Ireland have abandoned Test series because they cannot make them financially viable. Those are two ends of the range, but there are many more countries nearer the Irish end than the English one, and the English extreme is beginning to weaken. Core marquee series will continue, principally between the most powerful boards of India, Australia and England, but Test cricket will wither further beyond that. There is a way to prevent it, and that would be a more equitable wealth distribution globally, and allow the players to choose Test cricket as a viable means of support for them and their families. But let’s be clear – it isn’t going to happen. The handwringing about the decline of Test cricket among the great and the good has no relevance when the actions that could be taken to prevent it are verboten in administrative circles, because of their own narrow interests. Fundamentally, there isn’t a desire within the ICC hierarchy, and particularly the board hierarchies, to save Test cricket. Until or unless that happens, Test cricket is on a one way ticket to irrelevance and extinction.

This also has knock on effects for domestic cricket, not just in England but around the world. After all, the purpose of first class cricket has been largely to provide a training ground for the Test game, something that puts the hackles up for the county cricket fans who see a game that is important in its own right. But it has never been financially viable in itself anywhere since the 19th century, it wasn’t the point of it to be. The diminution in value of first class cricket is a corollary of the decline of Test cricket and its lack of revenue creation has changed its positioning from one that needs support in order to promote the wider game to being viewed as a revenue drain on central resources. This is an important change in focus – county cricket has never been something central in and of itself to the finances of cricket, it has had sporting value and been deemed worthy of support as such. This has changed – the justification for concepts like the Hundred have been to generate financial income in and of itself, and not for the purposes specifically of first class county cricket. This is central to the expectations in years to come, for no longer is it considered inherently valuable.

The arrival of the Hundred has a further likely consequence, in that it introduces franchise cricket to England. It is from a different era that Durham was added to the roster as the 18th county, the desire now is to shrink the base of teams, not expand them. Protests that regional franchises are purely for the shortest form of the game smack of disingenuousness – the strongest counties will survive irrespective, but the weaker ones look like they have no long term future. Formal status is unlikely to be revoked, because it simply doesn’t matter much, they will fall by the wayside as power and money is concentrated in the hands of the few, and the difference between some first class counties and some minor counties will be harder to determine. Salami tactics work in terms of generating change – abolishing counties would invite end of days headlines, allowing them to fade into obscurity will be met with a shrug of the shoulders from all but those directly affected. The protests from county cricket fans will make little difference – they have already been written off as unimportant.

This is not a future that many will relish. But as things stand it is where we are likely to be. Test cricket being in trouble is not breaking news, but the lack of any impetus or desire to change this is what is going to doom it to the margins. First class cricket and county cricket will follow, and the focus on white ball, and particularly T20 cricket is the future to be faced. It can change, certainly, but only if there is a desire to enact what is needed to make that happen. There is no sign of that happening, and no sign of a desire that it should happen. Money has become the driving motivation in sport across the world, but cricket is in a different place, whereby the belief among administrators is that the game of cricket has no future without change, and that the generation of cash is the prime motivation, not the sport itself. Business people can have that view, indeed they always have done, there is no reason to pretend they are other than what they are for good or ill, what is different in cricket is that there are few at the top of the game who believe passionately in the beauty of their own sport, who see their role as primarily to defend and grow it. Instead they consider that change must happen in order to make money, rather than making money to deliver a better sport. Not even the feast of mammon that is football has quite this attitude to their own game – they have a rapacious desire to monetise their sport, not consider the raison d’etre of the sport to be money generation.

The amateur game is far from immune to the fallout. Sunday friendly cricket has undoubtedly declined in a precipitous manner over recent years, as the player base has shrunk. A push to T20 matches from those viewing it from the lofty perspective of their professional career is to miss the central point that a desire for shorter games is as much a reflection of a smaller pool as it is modern life writ large in cricket. Free to air broadcast of cricket may still be the biggest driver of arresting such an unpropitious collapse in the player base, but it isn’t a panacea for the problems of the game either. Like so many things, it is complex to the point of confusion, but in this arena at least, the biggest change would be evidence that there’s much more than lip service to the importance of it from the centre. Here again, there is little reason to believe that will happen, and the decline of the clubs will continue.

For good or ill, it’s our direction of travel. There is no doubt that many will be aghast, but an attempt to be realistic isn’t an endorsement of where we are headed. And more specifically, it’s where we are meant to be headed. This is not a lament for a passing time, nor a wish that if only a few changes could be made. Too often the debate is framed around a tweak here, a nudge there. A few more pennies for a county perhaps, or throw a bone to a former associate nation. None of it matters, and none of it makes any difference, except to allow the drowning to suck in a last few precious breaths of air. It would require fundamental change to move the trajectory, and it won’t happen, can’t happen, because it is not accidental. It is not a game that has lost its way and is seeking a way back. It is far too much of a conspiracy to assume this is the development of a grand plan to reach this suggested destination, but it doesn’t have to be, it isn’t how it works. All it requires is for an acquiescence with the direction of travel, and that contentment is entirely present. For as long as the approach is one of managed decline of the traditional and a defensive mentality of the long standing, while embracing the new, shiny and above all lucrative, there is little reason to doubt where we will end up.

India vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 1

After the rightful celebration of after an English victory on Indian soil in the First Test, England came crashing down to earth with a large bump today. On a pitch where winning the toss became vitally important, India won the toss, duly elected to bat and Rohit in particular put England to the sword.

There were a number of discussions on the BOC Twitter feed about what type of pitch we would see for this Test, and to the surprise of not many, the ball spun and spat from the off. There had been rumours that the Indian camp were far from happy with the surface for the First Test and even some who reported that the head groundsman had been replaced, so it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is the pitch that we have. This by the way isn’t a criticism of the Indian team, as it is no different from England preparing a green seamer up at Headingley in the early summer, but some also might argue that preparing a pitch so suited to the home side doesn’t exactly help the integrity of Test cricket. That discussion is probably for another day mind.

Today belonged to Rohit Sharma, who bullied the English bowlers from the off and now has a remarkable record of averaging nearly 88 in Tests in India. Perhaps seeing the wear and tear on the pitch and also seeing his opening partner inadvisably shouldering arms to Ollie Stone early in the piece, Rohit played with aggression throughout his innings knowing that he could he easily cop an unplayable one. Naturally he had a little bit of luck throughout his innings, as you need to playing on a Bunsen of a pitch, but it would be churlish to begrudge him any such luck, such was the quality of his innings. By the time he was caught in the deep attempting to slog sweep Leach for 161, the damage had been done and this could very well be a match winning innings.

The ironic thing was that England made some early inroads with Gill, Pujara and Kohli all falling cheaply. Naturally Kohli’s dismissal and refusal to walk after being bowled being the highlight. One did wonder if he was going to go to do a W.G Grace and calmly put the bails back on before taking guard. I have a lot of respect for Kohli the batsman, but it is episodes like this that give his critics plenty of ammo. After this slapstick moment, Rahane joined Rohit in the middle and took the game away from England in the afternoon session. After Rahane was finally given out after a howler of a DRS decision from the Third umpire had previously reprieved him, Pant came in with plenty of positivity and remains a threat being unbeaten at the close of play. The sight of Joe Root getting the ball to rip late in the day, probably won’t help the mindset of the English batsmen either.

As for England, they manfully toiled in the field with Leach and Stone being the pick of the bowlers. Broad was pretty ineffective as has often been the case in Indian conditions, and Moeen’s bowling performance perfectly encapsulated his Test career so far in that he can take wickets with brilliant deliveries but is completely unable to offer any control in helping to restrict the scoring. Ca Plus Change.

It could be argued that the game is already beyond England; however they are going to need to get these last 4 Indian wickets cheaply and then hope someone plays an innings of a lifetime for them. If not, then this could be over in 3 days. Let’s just hope Star Sports don’t manage to fix their camera’s for any stumpings when it’s England’s turn to bat!

As ever thoughts on the day’s play received gratefully below.

India vs. England, 1st Test, Day 5 – A Deserved Victory

It may only be one Test in a 4 Test series, but victory for England in the first Test will feel extremely sweet this evening for the tourists. Let’s not forget that India had only lost once at home in the last 8 years prior to today’s result, so it is quite right to saviour this victory no matter what the final series score turns out to be.

Chasing an unlikely 420 to win the game, India never really got close if truth be told. They lost Pujara early to an outstanding delivery from Jack Leach and despite both Gill and Kohli looking comfortable in trying to bat out the draw, you always felt that one wicket would lead to two or three on this pitch. The fact that the breakthrough came from Jimmy Anderson should surprise nobody given how he has performed over the past few years. In the 27th over of the innings, Anderson bowled one of the best overs in Test match cricket i’ve seen in a long time, indeed evoking memories of ‘that Flintoff over’ in 2005. It was an over that had everything that has made Anderson the leading wicket taker for a pace bowler in Test cricket, a masterclass in how to bowl reverse swing in the sub-continent. Both Gill and Rahane were beaten all ends up by a delivery that reversed back through the batsmen’s defences and took out the off stump. He then also added the wicket of the dangerous Pant to in essence, seal India’s demise.

I genuinely don’t understand the disrespect Anderson gets away from these shores. Yes he is grumpy, spikey and downright gobby on the pitch, but to say he only performs in helpful conditions has been a nonsense for years. It may have been true in his early years in the team, but since then he has matured into the complete bowler, with the nous and skill to perform in any conditions. I’m not sure that I can say anymore that hasn’t been said before but it is testament to his desire to keep playing at a high level that even at 38 years old, he is still the leader of England’s attack.

Once Stokes had got rid of Kohli with a ball that kept low, it then fell to Jack Leach to ultimately finish the Indian tail off, especially with Bess having one of those frustrating days that a young spinner will encounter as he grows into International cricket. It would have been easy for Leach to have lost confidence and become downhearted after being smashed all over Chennai in the 1st innings by Pant; however Leach showed that he has got some internal fortitude and he bowled with control and skill on Day 5 and deserved his 4 wicket haul at the end of the game. For as much credit should that should go to Leach, equal credit should be given to his captain who persevered with him after the Pant show. It would have been easy for Root to tell Leach to have a breather for the rest of the innings after going for 10 an over and I remember a certain former captain with a history of doing just that; however Root immediately bought Leach back on after Pant’s dismissal and ultimately showed his belief in his spin bowler. It might not seem a huge thing, but Root seems to have matured as a captain, even if he does remain ultra-cautious at times, and by backing his spin bowler he ultimately reaped the reward as Leach came to the fore in the 4th innings. Naturally the fact that Root is scoring runs for fun right now, has no doubt aided his captaincy, but it is still heartening to see that he understands the players under his tutelage.

As for India, there will be disappointment that they ultimately were unable to bat out the day. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that they looked a little ring rusty in their home conditions after coming into this series straight off a victory in Australia. It wouldn’t surprise me either if they tinker with their bowling line up in the next game, with Nadeem looking a little out of his depth and Kuldeep, a spinner who does go for runs but does also take wickets, waiting in the wings. That being said, a wounded India is always a dangerous animal, as their performance in Australia showed. Kohli in the 2nd innings looked like he was getting back into the groove and with Ashwin yet again showing why he is so highly regarded in world cricket, India are still rightly favourites for the series. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the pitch in Chennai for the 2nd Test turns from the off, negating the impact of the coin toss.

That however is for another day. It might only be on Test match, but England can feel very proud of their performance in this Test. Tougher times are likely ahead in this series, but for now the pressure is firmly on the shoulders of the hosts.

As ever thoughts on the game are very much welcome below.

India vs. England, 1st Test – Preview

After what can be described as a fairly comfortable yet nonetheless satisfactory series win away in Sri Lanka, now comes the real test – India in their home conditions. It’s pretty much safe to say that this Indian team have pretty much put all comers to the sword at home over the past 7 years having lost only in that period and having won 29 out of the last 35 Tests during that period too. This will not be lost on an English team who were trounced 4-0 on their last visit to India.

If England are to have any chance in this series, then their batsmen are going to need to fire in the first innings and their bowlers are going to have create pressure on the Indian batsmen by not giving away silly runs. For the former, it’s obvious that Joe Root will need to score the bulk of the runs much like he did in Sri Lanka. Root is a brilliant player of spin, who is able to rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking which is vital in the subcontinent where it is all too easy to get stuck in a quagmire. Naturally England can’t just rely on their Captain and it will be vital for the likes of Stokes, Pope and the two English openers to try and take some of the pressure off Roots shoulders; however this will easier said than done as this Indian attack not only has great spinners but some rather handy seamers, who showed their skills and worth in Australia. Of course, losing Zak Crawley to a freak wrist injury on the eve of the Test is hardly ideal, but at least we can be thankful it didn’t happen to Root or Stokes.

As for the latter, it will imperative that the English spinners exert some control and limit the scoring, something which they were unable to do in Sri Lanka. It’s not that Leach and Bess bowled awfully, as some social media pundits insisted as they ‘crowned them as the worst English spinners of all time’, at times they bowled well in Sri Lanka. However there were plenty of times when they were pretty innocuous and the inconsistencies were there for all to see. This is an area the Indian batsmen will likely target and punish if we don’t see an improvement in this department, after all we can’t just rely on Jimmy Anderson and Broad to be the only bowlers that can give England any control on the field.

It will also be interesting to see what the pitches are like, especially as India have introduced a new cricket ball with a more pronounced seam. Now whether this means the ball will more beneficial for the seam bowlers is something we don’t know yet, but it is at least something to think about when thinking about the make-up of the English team. All too often in the last Indian series, England were guilty of picking the team they wished they’d picked for the previous Test rather than on the merits of the pitch in front of them. If England continue to do this, then it could be a long series in the field for Joe Root’s men.

As for India, they’ve probably got one of the strongest lines ups I’ve seen for an Indian side in quite a while. The top 5 of Rohit, Gill, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane is up there in Test cricket as one of the most powerful top 5, that alongside a bowling attack of Bumrah, Shami and Ashwin, who is finally showing that he can has all the skills to be effective both at home and away from home, is going to be a real challenge for any touring team. India will be disappointed that Jadeja has been ruled out of the series as he adds much to this team with ball and bat; however in Thakur, Sundar and Axar Patel, India have plenty of other spin options to give the English batsmen nightmares. 

On a last note, it is wonderful to see cricket being shown on an FTA platform after 16 years locked behind a paywall and Channel 4 deserve a lot of credit for making it happen, especially as negotiating with Star Sports is akin to pulling teeth. It did make me smile yesterday when I saw people complaining on Twitter that it won’t be able to match the coverage of Sky’s production, which to me is like winning £10 million on the lottery and then complaining it wasn’t £12 million. Naturally the commentary feed will be taken from Star Sports who will do anything not to upset the BCCI in any way, shape or manner and naturally the in studio analysis won’t be able to match that of the well oiled Sky machine, but to have cricket on a free to air platform that anyone who is either a fan or just curious about the game can access, far outweighs any negatives.

Of course the view at the ECB might be a little different to the fans, with a prime series going for pretty much peanuts with neither Sky nor BT being inclined to bid for it, might indicate a switch in priorities for both broadcasters moving forward. What is certain is that the next TV deal is not going to look anything like the current one and the ECB are going to need to quicky realise that they’ve been to the well one too many times and plan accordingly. That conversation is for a different time and I for one am looking forward to seeing cricket back on a free to air, with hopefully the viewing figures to match Channel 4’s investment.

As ever feel free to comment on anything about the game below:

How Not To Market A Product

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

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

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

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

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

But the England And Wales Cricket Board do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

600: Rise of the Umpire’s Finger

Minimal play on the final day, a match ruined by rain and bad weather led it to peter out in a draw, and a 1-0 win for England.  In reality, that was always likely, and as much as anything else it was about whether James Anderson would have the opportunity to bowl and take that elusive 600th Test wicket.  It was more of an issue than would usually be the case, at 38 years old and with the world struggling under the load of Covid-19, there was always the possibility that he wouldn’t get another chance.  All things being equal, he will probably be around for a little while yet, but injury could have intervened, and no one can be entirely sure whether planned tours will go ahead.  Considered overall, it is better to have it out of the way now, both for him personally and to prevent any danger of selectors and public having an eye on him being stranded on 599.

There will always be debate about where particular players stand in the pantheon of leading performers.  It isn’t helped by the tendency in the modern world to assign labels of greatest ever far too frequently, leading to irritation and a push back against it.  It doesn’t matter.  It has never mattered.  Only one person can ever be given that epithet by any individual, making it by definition exclusionary and rarely a considered statement.  Anderson’s overall record is hampered by a difficult start to his Test career, his first hundred wickets coming at an average of 35 meaning that even as thereafter it dropped dramatically it wasn’t until ten years after his debut that it dipped below 30.   It has continued to fall ever since, best highlighted in a tweet from Tim Wigmore:

 

It’s 12 years since he took that 100th wicket, it’s 7 years since he took his 300th.  Longevity is an achievement in itself, particularly for a seam bowler for whom the physicality of bowling is in itself a major challenge, but his record over the last ten years or more is world class and world class over longer than the vast majority of whole Test careers.

His record is markedly better in England than it is overseas, but this is neither surprising nor should it be used as more than an observation, and certainly not a stick with which to beat him.  He is a product of English cricket and his skills are necessarily geared to where he plays most.  He’s not the first to have such a differential and won’t be the last – it is an extremely rare (and great) bowler indeed to be equally successful in all conditions, and as someone who relies on swing, being stuck with the Kookaburra ball abroad will necessarily reduce his effectiveness dramatically.

Moreover, in a time when Test cricket is under ever increasing threat, his only likely challenger as top wicket taker for a pace bowler is Stuart Broad, his long term opening partner.  England play more Test matches than anyone else, but even in England colours it is increasingly hard to imagine someone other than Broad from anywhere matching his longevity, fitness and wicket taking prowess.

Above all else, Anderson on song has been a joy to watch.  If the true pleasure of sport at the highest level is to witness human beings operating in a manner entirely foreign to ordinary mortals, then Anderson’s ability to have the ball on a piece on a string and to make accomplished batsmen look stupid is a rare one indeed.  There is nothing brutal about his bowling, although in his early years he was undoubtedly sharp, but there is the consistent ability to dismantle techniques and cause high quality batsmen to appear to be out of their depth.  Numbers don’t always explain that, but any who remember watching the intelligence of Richard Hadlee’s bowling will see a modern day echo of that in Anderson.

It would have been nice had there been a crowd to watch him do it, it would have been nicer still for him to have had his family there to share it with him.  But above all he got the chance to do it at all, and that is where endless thanks for the Test summer we have had must go to Pakistan and the West Indies.  A rarity on here it may be, but credit should also be paid to the ECB, for back in April any kind of cricket seemed a distant prospect.  Self-interest, of course it was, but self-interest that did provide a glimpse of a path back to some kind of normality, and that benefits us all.

There will be endless tributes to James Anderson from better people than me, some will go too far, some will cause irritation elsewhere in the world at the positioning of him at the head of a pack of great fast bowlers.  I don’t care.  Anderson has been grumpy, sometimes infuriating to watch (too short, too wide was a regular complaint), sometimes excused for actions other players would not have got away with.  But he’s also been a magician with a cricket ball, a player who has lasted when so many fell by the wayside, undoubtedly one of the greatest English Test bowlers of all time, and someone who has got a player out 600 times in Test cricket.  That’s one hell of a lot of raised umpire’s fingers.

 

England vs. Pakistan, 3rd Test, Day 4 – 599*

England went into today’s play hoping for a couple of things, the weather to stay clear and for Jimmy Anderson to get his 600th wicket with the weather looking pretty dreadful on Tuesday. Unfortunately none of the above happened.

Today was one of those incredibly frustrating days where the weather intervened constantly and nothing much happened on what is a very flat pitch. England’s approach to the day was certainly lackadaisical, somehow how hoping that the Pakistani batsmen would give their wickets away with no hope of winning the game and one eye on the flight home, but this was far from the case. England’s bowlers were too short and too wide throughout the main session before rain ended it and they were even worse in the field, with Jos Buttler shelling a sitter from Jimmy Anderson that might yet cost him his 600th Test Wicket. The Pakistani batsmen also benefitted from a pitch that has just got slower and flatter as this Test has progressed, though that’s not taking away anything from their application and determination not to let this tour end in a 2-0 defeat.

Once the rain halted and the players re-entered the field at 3:45pm, England did at least start to bowl with a little more purpose, with Root adjusting his field having recognised that the pitch was not going to do them any favours. Broad struck early on with a delivery that Masood misjudged and got the merest glance of his pad whilst not playing a shot and was given out LBW. It may have only been clipping the stumps but umpires are never frightened to give someone out when not offering a shot. Anderson then removed Abid with a ball that tailed in with a bit of reverse swing and caught him in front and number 599 was in the bag.

Unfortunately very little happened after that with Bess looking pretty ineffective and Root being forced to bowl before the umpires inexplicably took them off for bad light. Again.

In truth today was one of those days that doesn’t do Test Cricket again good. A flat pitch which isn’t deteriorating, bad weather and overly fussy umpires meant that it was at times a tedious watch. It happens at times, but it is still disappointing when it does. We all know that Test Cricket doesn’t help itself at times especially when the umpires had the opportunity to start the game at 10:30am today and decided to refuse; I guess they like their breakfast in bed.

So we move on tomorrow and the forecast is grim. It is meant to hammer down for most of this evening and tomorrow morning in Southampton and best case scenario is likely for a 3pm start if they can clear the ground of the excess water. Unless something very strange happens, then this game is set for a bore draw, but hey Test Cricket can be a funny beast at times. One thing we can all hope for is that Jimmy Anderson does get the opportunity to bowl and take that final wicket to get to 600. I would hate to be in the shoes of some of England’s slip fielders and the wicketkeeper if the weather fails to play ball or if they drop any more chances off him.

As ever, thoughts and comments always welcome.

 

Creeping to Domination

About ten years ago, England had days like these on a regular basis – a powerful top end would build a platform, and the middle order would exploit a tiring attack to lift England fairly consistently to 400 and 500+ totals.  Over the last six or seven years such days have been rare, with 300 more frequently the top end of their ambitions.  One match doesn’t signal a return to those more productive times, but nor should it be ignored when it happens.  England are in complete command of this Test match thanks to a record fifth wicket partnership between Zak Crawley and Jos Buttler, taking the team to a total of 583-8.  Oh heady days.

There is ever a temptation to go overboard about young players when they first make their mark, and Zak Crawley’s 267 will doubtless lead to gushing praise and comparisons to others that don’t yet need to be made.  It is enough to regard this innings as truly exceptional, and the player highly promising.  He remains inexperienced to the point that this was only his fourth first class century in little more than 50 games, with an average of barely 30.  Nothing at all to write home about.  But there is a difference between identifying a young player with a modest record and believing he will develop into a fully fledged Test cricketer and simply persevering with someone for the sake of it.  The modern day descent into besteveritis will likely mean that some of the praise is over the top in terms of the future career context, but that doesn’t, and shouldn’t take away from just how impressive he has been in this match.

It was an innings both of maturity and control – fluent throughout, solid in defence and despite admitting to nerves when in the nineties, seemingly unflappable as every milestone approached.  It is one knock, but a hell of a knock, and if cricket is a game played in the mind, it can only help him believe he has all the ability needed to succeed.  Rob Key, his mentor for many years is, and should be, extremely proud of him.

His partner throughout was Jos Buttler, a player whose own lack of a fine first class record made his initial selection a similar kind of punt, but with the difference that after nearly fifty Tests, he still had only one century to show for it.  His wicketkeeping in the first Test too had shown significant errors, suggesting that the pressure was starting to show.  Buttler isn’t an exceptional wicketkeeper by any stretch, but he is a generally competent one, albeit much less secure when standing up, as his lack of stumpings indicates.  His selection in that role is a choice, a slightly compromised wicketkeeper picked for the runs he can score and the way he scores them.  His shortcomings in his strongest suit were the main reason for his place coming under threat rather than his nominally primary role.

Here he was in control, his shot selection vastly improved compared to recently, and the pace of his innings suggested a player feeling in command for the first time in quite a while.  The calls for him to be replaced were not in error, for stick with a player long enough and eventually they will score runs.  But equally, when those calls are made, it needs to be acknowledged when he has come good, and as this series has gone on, he has looked much improved.  Keeping faith with him cannot yet be said to be the correct decision, but the signs of him learning at last how to compile a Test innings suggests it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it will need to be acknowledged as a good one.  Only time will tell, though there will be some players feeling that they too would have liked the degree of support given to Buttler, and the chance to repay that faith.

Two days, one innings; two players, two Daddy hundreds.  The future can take of itself for both of them, today was very much their day, and they deserve all the plaudits going.

With a fine sense of crowd pleasing (even if on sofas and in cars up and down the country), Joe Root sent Stuart Broad in for a slog towards the end.  Broad has become something of a national treasure over the last year or so, which is intriguing given that for so long he was a player who divided opinion so much, even when performing well.  It is perhaps the fate of players who can change a match in a session that all too often it is asked why they don’t do it more often than celebrated for what a rare ability it is.  But while his bowling has been of high quality (and seemingly increasing quality) for a number of years, his batting mojo seems to have returned, to some extent at least.

Broad’s batting decline led to it being both sad in itself and worthy of mockery.  His resurrection – not to the near all rounder levels of ten years ago, but to a thrillingly attacking tailender – has changed perspectives from him being a figure of fun to one of adoration.  Stuart Broad batting would empty the bars if they were open.

A short session attacking the Pakistan batsmen was available, and to the surprise of no one, inroads were made.  Anderson picked up three, to take himself to 596 Test wickets, and a decent chance of reaching 600 by the end of the match. At 38, there is always the chance the end could come suddenly, and only the most churlish would lament him reaching such a landmark this week.

If Pakistan are to get out of this one, they will have to bat out of their skins, or hope that the weather gods are smiling on them more than they were in the Second Test.  Conditions are one of the fickle factors that affect cricket, a random occurrence that can be utterly capricious.  The visitors had every chance of winning the last match, and now they will probably need the weather to restrict their defeat to 1-0.  No one ever said life was fair.

One last word on the weather.  For this match the umpires have been given increased latitude in making up time at the start of the day as well as the end, and in moving the sessions around to maximise cricket.  Some of the criticism in the 2nd Test was fully warranted, particularly around the inclination to go off the field rather than stay on.  Yet here they have been proactive, and have learned a lesson.  There was rain this morning, and lunch was pushed back to 2pm.  As it turned out, that probably cost some playing time, with the weather sunny and dry during lunch, inviting more pointed comment.  This was unfair, the umpires were doing their best to maximise play – they are not soothsayers when it comes to when the rain comes and goes.  It was just a trifle unlucky.  On this one, they should be cut a little slack.

England vs. Pakistan – 3rd Test, Day 1 – Scores And Bores

Today was an exceptional day of cricket. An amazing batting performance from Zak Crawley left England very much in the ascendancy after the end of the first day. Rather frustratingly, I missed a large portion of it because I was busy transcribing Colin Graves’ interview on Sky, a long and boring process which took me over two hours to complete.

The day had a mixed start for England, with Rory Burns being squared up by Shaheen Shah Afridi and edging to the slips. This has not been a good series so far for the England opener, who currently has a series average of 5.00. In particular, the left-arm pace of Afridi has taken his wicket three times. That said, I wouldn’t be overly concerned by his form at this moment in time. His average against the West Indies just a few weeks ago was 46.80, and few teams have a high-quality left-handed pace bowler if that is a weakness of his.

Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley saw off the very good Pakistani pace attack with the new  ball, which brought in legspinner Yasir Shah. It had been noted after the first Test against Pakistan that Dom Sibley had the low strike rate against spin bowling of 36.61. What was not mentioned was that his average against spinners in Test cricket was 40.00. His scoring rate was raised during the game in commentary, and afterwards during interviews. During a press conference after that game, Sibley vowed to be “a bit more proactive” against spin. In the two games since that interview, his strike rate against spin has soared to 62.07, whilst his average against spin in those two games is 18.00. Today he was dismissed after being judged LBW after skipping down the pitch to try and hit Yasir Shah out of the ground.

There are two aspects of this that infuriate me. Firstly, since when does run rate matter in Tests? Whilst obviously it might be considered better to score more quickly than not, as it reduces the chances of a draw, I’d much rather have a slow batsmen averaging 40 than a quick one averaging 30. It seems notable that a large portion of those espousing its importance in Tests are those who seem to prefer T20 cricket.

My second, more important issue with this pressure on Sibley to score more quickly is that it seems a wholly predictable result that it will get in his head and lower his average. We saw it with Trott, and Compton, and Ballance. People take their scoring for granted, tell them to accelerate once they’re ‘in’, and it completely screws them up. I want Sibley to be opening for England in five years’ time with a Test average over 40. I think the best way to do that is to leave alone to score at his own pace. England have plenty of batsmen who can score quickly, so they can afford for one or two to take their time. Sibley genuinely seems to me like the real deal, and I don’t want him crashing out of the side prematurely.

Joe Root fell soon after Lunch, edging an unplayable delivery from Naseem Shah which moved sharply off the pitch before catching the edge. With one innings to go, Joe Root has a batting average this summer of 37.33. He hasn’t averaged over 40 in a home summer since 2017. Whilst he is entirely blameless for today’s dismissal, I do think that he could have possibly kept it out in his prime. The same frustrating way that Steve Smith or Virat Kohli just manage to keep an absolute jaffa from dismissing them. I think the time of considering Root one of the ‘Fab Four’ world batsmen, or of worrying that his conversion of fifties was too low, has long since passed.

Pope was clean bowled by Yasir Shah, which left England on 127/4 with Zak Crawley and Jos Buttler at the crease. These are two batsmen who I genuinely don’t rate particularly highly, and so I feared the worst. Zak Crawley’s first-class average is a mere 30.82, whilst Jos Buttler has an average of 32.31 after 46 Test matches with just the solitary century. To my pleasant surprise, they both delivered tremendous performances which took the game completely away from Pakistan and both remain not out overnight.

Crawley’s innings was truly remarkable. Rarely flustered or giving chances, he was scoring at almost 4 runs per over against what is an impressive Pakistani bowling attack. He finished the day on 171 not out, which is also his highest first-class score. He missed two Tests this summer in order to make room for the injured Ben Stokes playing as a specialist batsman. After today, I wouldn’t think that he will be considered England’s most expendable batsman.

There were two notable interviews broadcast today on Sky. Before play, ICC match umpire, Stuart’s dad and former Rebel tourist Chris Broad had a rare interview. Most of it was devoted to the changes in playing conditions for this Test regarding bad light. Essentially, umpires now have the option to start the day half an hour earlier rather than adding the time on at 6.30pm when light is likely to be at its worst. But, after that topic was well covered, the talk drifted to over rates:

Nasser Hussain: In the last five years in England, the over rate has dropped to 13.4 overs. In the last year, it is 12.1 overs when they should be bowling at 15. And yet only two captains have been fined in England by the ICC. Are the over rates at the moment acceptable?

Chris Broad: You talk about this country, you look at the number of crowds, the number of people who come and want to watch Test cricket. If they start falling away, then something needs to be looked at. I feel that there has been some exciting cricket in this series. If there were crowds in here, they would appreciate the fact that there has been some exciting cricket. There have been results in almost every Test match, and I think they’ve had value for money. It’s something that, if you look at stats, they can actually tell a different story. Tell perhaps an unreal story, and the entertainment value of the game of cricket. I think this series, as far as entertainment has been concerned, has been fantastic.

I think one of the most basic things I believe is that you don’t get to choose which laws you follow, or enforce. Unless you’re rich, obviously [/satire]. It is what infuriates me most about slow over rates. I would find it immensely entertaining for Jofra Archer to bowl from 4 yards in front of the bowling crease, if I wasn’t batting, but if he goes a millimetre beyond the bowling crease it’s called a no ball. I think many people just want to watch certain batsmen bat, Stuart Broad for example. But the ICC umpires won’t let him reset the stumps after being bowled while telling the bowler, “They came to see me bat, not you bowl.” Not even his dad.

I also disagree with the contention that enforcing over rates would make the cricket less entertaining. I can’t say for sure that it wouldn’t though, because I can’t recall at any point where it has been enforced. Teams are generally willing to accept the small fines or points penalties that are given and, as Nasser rightly points out, even these minor punishments are rarely used.

The second, more extensive interview of the day came during the Lunch break, with Ian “Wardy” Ward and Nasser Hussain ‘grilled’ outgoing ECB chairman Colin Graves. For your enjoyment, here is the whole goddamn thing:

Wardy: How’s the five years been?

Graves: It’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it to be honest Ian. And when you look at all those highlights, we’ve come a long way in five years both on and off the field. From a board perspective, we’ve now got an independent board which I think is one of the best things English cricket has ever done. It’s been enjoyable.

Wardy really set the tone for the questions here. It couldn’t be a softer delivery if it was a 79-over old Kookaburra being bowled by Jack Shantry.

Wardy: What’s been your biggest challenge?

Graves: I think the biggest challenge certainly was getting The Hundred off the ground. We had all the pushback initially on that. I think people are starting to see the advantages of it now. So that was really challenging, but I still think it is the right thing to be doing and it will be a valuable asset to the ECB going forward. Both from a profit perspective and from a playing point of view as well.

Obviously many of us are dubious about the possible profit The Hundred might generate. I am curious what Graves meant by a “playing point of view” though. Does he believe that a new format will helps English players in the T20 and 50-over games? The English 40-over competition was removed in 2013 to bring it into line with the international 50-over standard, because it was felt that the slightly shorter length didn’t help develop international cricketers. Has something changed since then?

Wardy: Why so much pushback, do you think?

Graves: I think people, certainly in cricket, don’t like change. I think we’ve been set with a number of competitions over the years that everybody seemed happy with and they looked at another competition: “Do we need another competition?” I don’t think they realise we’re trying to attract this new audience, women, children and families, which we’ve never really had coming to cricket. So that was a big message to get across. When we took it to the vote, to the counties, that went through 38-3 so it was fairly unanimous when it came down to it. And it’s just a change, to be honest with you.

Somewhere, there is a PR person from the ECB facepalming so hard they might have broken their nose. Since the disastrous launch by Andrew Strauss two years ago, in which he essentially said that existing cricket fans don’t matter because The Hundred was for ‘mums and kids’, the ECB have toned down that message with every subsequent appearance. At this point, they are saying to people who attend T20 Blast games that is basically the same, except with better players. This is good marketing. You can’t persuade people who don’t know about cricket to attend cricket games. It is impossible. Whilst those now-legendary ‘mums and kids’ or ‘non-cricket fans’ might see The Hundred on the BBC and decide to attend in future years, the only possible live audience in the first season is the exact same people who already attend T20 Blast games.

If Colin Graves is going to keep turning up on TV and radio telling those existing fans that The Hundred isn’t for them but for families instead, they might not buy tickets and turn up. And the ECB might have to deal with empty seats dominating televised cricket for the second season in a row.

As for English cricket fans not liking change, that’s fair enough. They don’t. But I would say that this is mainly because there is so much of it. Here are just some of the changes to county cricket in the past 20-ish years.

2000: The first Championship divided into two divisions, with a reduction of one game per season.

2003: The 50-over Benson & Hedges Cup is replaced by the T20 Cup

2006: The Sunday League went from 45 to 40 overs per innings.

2010: The 50-over Friends Provident Trophy and Natwest Pro40 are replaced by the 40-over Clydesdale Bank 40.

2014: Points for a draw in the County Championship increased to 5. The 50-over One Day Cup replaces the 40-over Yorkshire Bank 40.

2017: Championship Division One reduced to 8 teams, with both divisions reduced to 14 games per season.

2020: County Championship to change to 10 teams in Division 1, , T20 Blast moved to May, the One Day Cup played during The Hundred, and a new 100-ball competition with new drafted teams.

In other words, every three or four years there is a major change in English domestic cricket. I’ve almost certainly missed out a lot of things from this list. At  some point the ECB has to just leave county cricket alone for a period, a decade or so, to really see what is and isn’t working in the long term.

Hussain: You said there “Fully behind it. People are starting to see the advantages of it.” What do you mean by that?

Graves: I think they’re starting to see that the reasons why we’re putting it together is because of this new audience. I think they’re starting to see the  excitement of a new competition. I think they’re starting to see as well we’re attracting a new broadcaster to it as well as yourselves. You’ve covered cricket brilliantly over the last years, it’s tremendous what you’ve done. And I think they’re starting to see all that thing coming  together. Children really getting excited in The Hundred. And I know even some of the countries abroad, India in particular, are looking at The Hundred. They’ve been talking to me about it for the last year on a regular basis. So around the world it’s created a lot of excitement. I’m just waiting to see what happens.

Who are these people that are seeing the advantages of it?

Besides that, I find the idea that the BCCI would pay the ECB to in order to play The Hundred as pretty laughable. They could enforce over rates in the IPL to bring the game running times under control, or choose a different standard like T10. I suspect what has happened is that the chairmen of other boards have found that a very easy way of buttering up Graves before asking him for a favour is to praise and declare an interest in The Hundred.

Wardy: The new broadcast deal is worth £1.2bn. How much of that, can you explain to people, is down to fact that The Hundred is included in that broadcast deal?

Graves: The £1.2bn was the whole broadcasting deal that we got for five years. That brought a fairly large amount of money for that new competition. And that was somewhere approaching £170m for the first five years from the broadcasters. But it wasn’t only that. It brought another broadcaster to the table who have never been interested in it before. And certainly to get back on terrestrial television, at that level, is certainly going to help. And it’s going to help expose cricket even more, which is what we want.

For those of you who have difficulty with maths, that means that over a billion pounds, over £200m per year, is dedicated to the pre-existing international and county games. Being from the horse’s mouth, this should hopefully put to bed the idea that The Hundred was responsible for the massive increase in the TV rights revenue starting this year.

Wardy: Such a shame that, obviously we can’t do it with Covid, that it hasn’t got off the ground yet.

Graves: Well that was a big disappointment to me. My last year as chairman, and I was going to see it take off, hopefully, and it’s not happened. But that was the right decision. There was no point doing it this year, so to postpone it for a year was absolutely spot on.

I disagree. I think it should have gone ahead. Partly because it would have allowed the ECB to keep more of this year’s TV deal rather than paying Sky back, at a time when English cricket needs every penny. More importantly, playing The Hundred could have allowed 18 extra live games of cricket on the BBC at a time when more people than ever will be stuck in front of the TV rather than meeting at the pub or going on holiday. It was as close to a captive audience as the ECB could have hoped for.

Wardy: Fully independent executive board. When you took over the chairmanship, was that one thing that was a must for you to change?

Graves: It needed changing. One thing which I didn’t expect is we would change it so quick and we got that through in two years. When I took over the ECB board, it had fourteen people on the board. It had four county members, two recreational members and the MCC. So 50% of the board were stakeholders, which was never easy to manage, and you had a conflict of interest and everything that went with it. Now we’ve got an independent board, it’s an entirely different ball game.

I don’t think a board, particularly one for a sports governing body like the ECB, should be easy for its chairman to manage. The ECB is responsible for so many different aspects of the game. Men’s professional cricket, women’s cricket, recreational cricket and so on. Every aspect of that should be represented on the board, so that none is forgotten.

I am particularly uneasy about the way that Colin Graves was also responsible for choosing those new board members as chairman of the ECB’s nomination committee until December 2019. At the very least, it raises questions about the independence of those ‘independent’ board members

Wardy: If you have a list of things you wanted to get through when you first started, you sat down at your desk and wrote A, B, C, and D, and if you had four or five points, how many have you ticked off?

Graves: I did have a list, and I think there’s only a couple left and to be honest I’m amazed how much we’ve done in five years. One of the biggest reasons is because we changed the executive in the first year when I took over as chairman. We’ve now got a fantastic executive led by Tom Harrison. But all the way through the organisation now, we’ve brought young people in, professional people in, people from outside the game. So we’ve brought people in from big companies like Heineken with a strong commercial background. And that new executive has helped to drive the game. Andrew Strauss was brilliant. When we brought Strauss in to be head of cricket, and Straussy fit into that team really well. And that whole team have helped change  very quickly.

Well, I would certainly agree that Andrew Strauss fit into the ECB very well. I do not mean that as a compliment though.

Wardy: The advancement of the women’s game. How pleased are you with that? We had that wonderful day at Lord’s when they  won the World Cup. That was the pinnacle, obviously, but in general how do you think that’s gone?

Graves: When you look at five years. I remember the first board meeting that I chaired Clare Connor came and presented to the board about a new competition that she wanted to put together for the women’s game, and we ticked that box that day. And when you look at where women’s cricket has come in the the past five years, it’s phenomenal. It’s moved very quickly. It’s moved very fast professionally. And it needed to. And I think there’s still a long way to go. The ECB need to keep investing in that, women’s and girls’, because it’s a big part of growth in cricket.

Here, I have to give some credit to Graves and the ECB. In terms of investing in women’s cricket, they are probably the second best in the world. It is a long way below the commitment of Cricket Australia, and I don’t think the current structure (with 8 semi-professional development teams) is sustainable or desirable, but it’s still better than virtually everyone else.

Wardy: Any regrets? Some of the things you’ve said?

Graves: Yeah. I’ve said one of two things that afterwards I’ve kicked myself and said “Why did I say that?” People always  say about me, “Mediocre West Indies team”, and all the rest of it. And the mediocre Blast. Those words were taken slightly out of context, but it was meant on the basis of what I thought at the time. But I’ll put my hand up and say it’s fine. I could have said it better.

So it was both out of context and what he thought at the time.

Hussain: At the highest level it’s been a successful tenure. Men’s, women’s, everything about the main England team. What about lower down? What about grass roots? What about participation? What about the structure, the liaising with the counties? How do you feel you’ve done further down?

Graves: When I look back at the whole game, as I call it. When I took over the board, I can tell you, the recreational game was never really talked about. It was a little bit on the agenda that took five-ten minutes and that was it. Coming from the recreational background, which is what I did. I was a recreational player, I was chairman of a recreational club. I’m passionate about recreational cricket because that is to me the grass roots of the future. So I made sure that we invested in recreational cricket properly, supported it with a pathway, and all the other things that we’ve done. And to me, it’s essential. And the one thing the game I believe, if I leave a message when I go, is “Make sure the investment in the game is right across the game.” That’s grass roots, girls’, women’s, boys’, schools’, everything. That is what we need to grow the game.

I would first dispute the premise of the question. Whilst the 2017 Women’s World Cup win was fantastic, and iconic, since then their star is shining a little less brightly. They lost the Ashes series at home last year, whilst they failed to reach the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup after losing a crucial group game to South Africa. On the men’s side, only the ODI side is dominant. The Test side is ranked 4th in the ICC rankings, below India, Australia and New Zealand. That is an improvement from when Graves was first appointed, to be fair.

As for recreational cricket, what investment has it seen from the ECB? Genuinely. I am stumped on that one. I guess All Stars cricket could be making a loss for the ECB, despite the them taking 87.5% of the fees for each child. The websites, scoring apps, etc. available for clubs seem a total mess from my admittedly outside perspective. If there is money coming from the ECB, where has it ended up?

Wardy: That is going to be the biggest challenge for Ian Watmore, who takes over on the first of September. You want to fund all these things and, in these Covid times, money is not great.

Graves: The big challenge that Ian and the board have got. Fortunately we have the new broadcasting deal, which this year is the first year of it so we’ve got four years left of the broadcasting deal. So yes, they’re going to have to cut back, but they’ll need to cut back right across, not just parts of it, because they still need to invest in all those other parts. I think by prudently looking at it, selectively looking at areas, they can still do the investment right across the game.

Wardy: 20% decrease in budgets, I’ve been reading around the place. In a bizarre sort of way, is it a good time to reset and reflect at some of the expenditure and where you could look at reducing that?

Graves: My last call with the county chairmen was last week, and the last message I gave to all the county chairmen was “What you need to do now with the ECB is to sit down and collectively talk and discuss about how you can remodel what we’ve got. Because it’s a time to do that. I think, if they do that properly, I think the game can grow even faster than what we’ve done.

I’m sure the 6 counties who were thinking about getting rid of first-class cricket to save money had some words for the outgoing chairman. I think the more important question Colin Graves’ answer begs is: Has the game grown? Are more people watching cricket now than five years ago? Are more people playing cricket than five years ago? Because (call me cynical) I think if either of those things were true, the ECB would be putting that out in press releases, tweets and interviews at every possible opportunity.

Wardy: How impressed have you been with the way the ECB have managed to get these games up in these strange times, and how thankful are you to the boards of West Indies, Pakistan, Irish cricket and indeed Australia, who arrive on Sunday?

Graves: When the whole Covid thing started, I must admit, we all sat there at the end of telephones and discussions those days, and we all thought the world was coming to an end. But it comes back to the executive, Tom Harrison and his team, and our board. We sat down and looked at what we could do and asked if we could get behind closed doors cricket running. It was a challenge. It was a massive challenge, because nobody had ever done it before. Fortunately we had a guy like Steve Elworthy, who could pull all that together for us and he did a fantastic job. But the determination of the executive and the board. And I think it’s the relationship we’ve got with countries like West India [sic], Pakistan, Australia and Ireland, around the world, that they have come to play in these environments. And it’s been challenging for everybody, it’s been challenging for you as broadcasters but, at the end of the day, we’ve got live international cricket up and running. Which is brilliant, from everybody’s point of view. I was looking at the broadcast and viewing figures yesterday, right across the piece with The Review, the highlights and everything else. Those figures are tremendous. Absolutely tremendous. To me, it shows that cricket is in the right place that, when we do start getting crowds back in, we’re in a superb place to take it even further forward.

Yep, this has been impressive. Fair play. Steve Elworthy was in charge of the 2019 World Cup, which also went well. A possible candidate for the chief executive job if Tom Harrison moves on?

Wardy: On a broader world scale, ECB, Cricket Australia have got lucrative broadcast deals. The likes of West Indies, Pakistan do not. Would you like to see the monetary playing field somehow levelled out so you don’t really get into the situation we’re having now with the haves and the have nots? Particularly if we’re looking to proect Test cricket.

Graves: I think there’s a way to do that. I sit on the ICC board, and have done for the last four years, and I think ICC could look at the way they share the money out from their pots. Because, I’m not being unkind, the ECB, the BCCI, Cricket Australia are not reliant on the ICC pot, They’re reliant on their own pot. And I think ICC could recut that pot in a different way with all those countries to make sure they are sustainable. Because we need all the countries playing if we’re going forward. Everyone.

Wardy: Fancy the ICC job?

Graves: That’s not up to me. The way the election goes, you have to be nominated. So, if I don’t get nominated then I’ll be nowhere near it anyway. When the nominations happen, all I said to everybody, I’ll look at it and see where  I am.

And there’s Colin Graves’ pitch for the top job in world cricket. You would think that sharing the ICC revenue more equitably would be very popular with nine of the twelve voting ICC members, so it seems a smart strategy. Those boards might want to examine his promises to the counties that he made in order to recieve the ECB chairmanship. They might also note how many of those counties are now in such a bad position after five years of Graves’ leadership that they are considering abandoning first-class cricket altogether.

Wardy: Have you enjoyed it?

Graves: I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I’ll miss it. I’ve enjoyed working with everybody, people like you and the executive, the counties, everybody. It’s been a fantastic job. And if somebody said to me twenty years ago that I’d be chairman of the ECB, I’d have said don’t talk stupid because it’ll never happen. But it did, and the rest is history.

Well at least he’s enjoyed himself.

Apologies for the late post. It’s almost 5,000 words, including the interviews, and it just took a lot longer to write than normal.

As always, please comment on the post, the game, or anything else below.

England vs. Pakistan, 3rd Test – open thread

Naturally we’d like to be able to spend all of our time living rent free and writing previews and blogs for the site; unfortunately life hasn’t dealt us these cards and so at times we’re unable to do just that. Today unfortunately has been one of those times (I did enjoy some nice craft ales in a local pub last night mind, which were very nice and it wouldn’t surprise me if Chris and Danny did the same).

It’s the third Test and final one of the summer, so let’s hope it’s a good one. Mind with winds blowing around 50mph in Southampton today, I’d sure be fighting to bowl with wind if batting wasn’t an option. The fight between Broad and Anderson with which end they get to bowl from could be a classic (if they’re both picked naturally).

Hopefully normal service responds tomorrow with regards to our activity. Comments always welcome.