I Fought the Law – the Law Definitely Won

Regular contributor Andy Oliver with his take on the recent law changes:

Why are we here?

For some reason, known only to the cricket gods, I decided to have a look at the just happened changes to the good old Laws (never rules – unless you want to wind up an umpire / stickler) of cricket.

The changes came into force internationally on the 1st October 2017, and seem to bring the worldwide game more into line with the playing conditions associated with International cricket (within reason obviously).

This has been a three year process by the MCC involving no one that I had ever heard of, except for Simon Taufel (ex-Aus umpire) so hopefully there has been an element of sense and improvement in the changes.

Some of the changes have the potential to create a greater impact on the overall game, and some are tweaks to existing laws.  I think there are some that will cause a good few arguments on the village green – so advise any umpires / clubs to have a copy of the updated laws with them on the field, or at the least, at the ground!  But that assumes the batsmen/bowlers actually know the Laws in the first place…

Dismissals

You will no longer be able to collect your honorary Graham Gooch award and be given out for handling the ball.  This mode of dismissal has been removed; however if a batsman were to handle the ball, they can instead be given out for obstructing the field – so don’t go willy-nilly handling your balls without invitation…

So there are now nine modes of dismissal, can you name them (no Googling at the back)?  I’ve been out to five of them I think.

Law 5

Everyone who has played club cricket will know that one batsman who has a ridiculous, massive, too heavy bat which they can only just lift, but when they do make contact the ball disappears (it’s just all too infrequent).  Well now the MCC have decided that batsmen have been riding their luck with too many top edges for six.

Now the batsmen must have a bat that fits within a certain size range – however it can still be as heavy as they want, so I don’t know what impact that might have as there will still be heavy bats that impart significant energy onto the ball (equal and opposite reaction and all that).  They will just be made with denser willow.

I believe they had a panel that reviewed the impact bat size made on scores etc.  How they did this I don’t know given there are many other variables in play at the same time.

I personally think too many dead wickets are to blame, as well as too many fielding restrictions and the whole two balls in play at once (for ODIs).  You could also make an argument for the increased protection of batsmen (better pads/helmets etc) as well as fitter batsmen also impacting on higher scores.

Batsmen are still going to hit big sixes, and they are still going to get lucky edges that fly away to the boundary.

Law 8.3.4

This is an interesting one.

This law allows for the placement of a tether between the bails and stumps.  I guess this is to try and prevent eye injuries to wicketkeepers (or slip fielders?).

It does not appear to be a mandatory law, just allowing for the provision subject to the relevant Governing Body.  I doubt we will see this filtering into general play, but I could foresee it in the professional game county game, but perhaps not in international cricket.  Although would it reduce the spectacle of ‘bails flying’?

My guess is that a lawyer somewhere said that the MCC have a liability because the previous law prohibited any tether/3rd component and without this law they would actually be restricting a potentially injury preventing system.

Law 21

This one has been amended to state that the ball may only bounce once (before it reaches the opposite popping crease) after being bowled.

It’s a simple change that is standard in professional cricket.  The update makes a comment about ‘competent recreational cricket’, they have obviously not seen me playing in the seconds –  I might need to practice my bowling a bit more if I want to avoid racking up those no balls!

It could cause a few arguments for those who don’t know about the change and have always ‘got away with it’, or it may just bring a couple of umpires I know of into line with the Laws rather than their interpretation of them…

Law 24

A substitute fielder can now keep wicket if needed.  I guess this is a result of the role being seen as a specialist position that could lead to injury if a non-keeper took up the gloves.

While not relevant to village cricket (we struggle to get ten, let alone having a twelfth man who is an expert wicket keeper), I can see this on the international stage for sure (if the ICC playing regulations bring it in).

I don’t know how this affects the batting order, but I assume that whomever was named in the original starting 11 would be expected to bat and if incapable, you only have nine wickets.

Again, it may be a liability thing, (someone who is not a keeper getting injured because the MCC not allowing a specialist substitute) but it would keep the big game spectacle because you are not having to ‘make do’ with a part timer.

Law 30

One for the TV more than the village green I think.

A running or diving batsman who grounds his bat, but it then bounces up will not be given out.  The key is it has to be a diving/forward momentum (i.e. you could still be stumped if you ‘wobble’ forward, but if running in you are fine).

On the flip side, if a batsman has grounded his bat but lifts (and comes out of his crease) it to take ‘evasive action’ he is not out.

This brings to mind Cooks only Test run out.  India, 3rd day at Eden Gardens, Kolkata in 2012.

Cook, only just out of his ground, took evasive action to avoid a throw at the stumps by Kohli.  The problem was that he had not grounded his bat in the first place before moving.  If he had just allowed himself to be hit, he would be fine (as he did not make a deliberate attempt to block the ball), If he had grounded his bat, and then moved – he would have been fine as well.

As it was, it was his only run out dismissal apparently.

Law 41

There have been a number of changes to Law 41, mostly tweaks but some good/bigger ones.  This law deals with fair and unfair play. 

Law 41.8

Check your betting slips…

This law make it an offense to bowl deliberate front foot no balls (good job Kieron Pollard did it already….).  If caught, then you will be suspended from bowling.

I doubt we will ever see this in a live game.  What umpire is going to know if a no ball is deliberate or not?

I’ve seen some doosies just from regular village play!!

Law 41.15

Batsmen cannot “take a stance where they will inevitably encroach on the protected area.”

I assume this means they cannot bat 4ft out of their crease (the protected area starting 5ft in front of the popping crease).  I guess that when a batsman runs down the wicket to a spinner, it’s still ok though as they are going through the motion of taking a shot.

I know what some of our (my village that is) bowlers would do if they saw someone batting that far out!

Law 41.16

This is a good one and bound to cause a few arguments.

Ever heard of “Mankading”?  Yup, the one that causes all the arguments.  The one where Butler was run out for leaving his crease early (correctly, under the previous law 41.15).

There, my cards are on the table.

Well, Law 41.16 explicitly deals with this and I present the full law below;

If the non-striker is out of his/her ground from the moment the ball comes into play to the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the bowler is permitted to attempt to run him/her out. Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one in the over.

 If the bowler fails in an attempt to run out the non-striker, the umpire shall call and signal Dead ball as soon as possible.

The ball ‘comes into play’ as the bowler begins his run up, so the bowler can remove the bails at any point up to delivering the ball and if the non-striker is out his ground, then he is gone.

Previously the ‘run out’ had to be performed prior to the bowler entering his delivery stride, but it was basically the same, they can just pull out before delivering

In other words, get back into the crease you cheating batsman, or I’ll have ya!

I expect many arguments to ensue over how this is against the spirit of the game, while ignoring the batsman stealing yards being against the ‘spirit’ instead.

Law 42

This law is the meaty new one (and thus is also the largest explanation).  While there were 42 Laws previously, the juggling has made room for a new law to be made, while keeping it at 42.

This Law is a conduct Law, and allows for in-match consequences for poor behaviour.  It’s probably also the one that will cause most arguments if attempted on the village green – so I don’t expect to see much of it happening.

There are 4 ‘levels’ of offence and it is the umpires’ discretion as to which level the offence falls into.  First the penalties:

Level 1: Warning (first offence) then 5 penalty runs to the opposition for a repeat offence.

Level 2: 5 Penalty runs to the opposition.

Level 3: Offending player is suspended for a number of overs (10 overs in normal cricket, 1/5th of the innings overs in limited overs cricket), depending on the length of the match, plus 5 Penalty runs to the opposition.

Level 4: Offending player is removed from the field for the rest of the match, plus 5 Penalty runs to the opposition.

Level 1 offences:

– Wilfully mistreating any part of the cricket ground, equipment or implements used in the match (Broad kicking a lump out of the Headingley wicket anyone?)

– showing dissent at an umpire’s decision by word or action (most of my team when I’m umpiring)

– using language that, in the circumstances, is obscene, offensive or insulting (me when I’m umpiring)

– making an obscene gesture

– appealing excessively (Shamsi in the CPL final anyone – if you have not seen it look it up)

– advancing towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing any other misconduct, the nature of which is, in the opinion of the umpires, equivalent to a Level 1 offence.

Level 2 offences

Showing serious dissent at an umpire’s decision by word or action

– making inappropriate and deliberate physical contact with another player

– throwing the ball at a player, umpire or another person in an inappropriate and dangerous manner

– using language or gesture to another player, umpire, team official or spectator that, in the circumstances, is obscene or of a serious insulting nature

– or any other misconduct, the nature of which is, in the opinion of the umpires, equivalent to a Level 2 offence.

Level 3 offences

– intimidating an umpire by language or gesture

– threatening to assault a player or any other person except an umpire. See Law 42.5.1.

Level 4 offences

– threatening to assault an umpire

– making inappropriate and deliberate physical contact with an umpire

– physically assaulting a player or any other person

– committing any other act of violence.

No substitutes are allowed, and if the fielder is removed before batting (or a batsman removed) under a level 4 offence, then they are deemed ‘retired – out’.  So a double punishment if you are that naughty while fielding in the first innings.

I do look forward to amateur umpires kicking people out of games.  I can see that going really well.

Summary

So broadly speaking I think the changes to the laws make things more comparable to the professional/international game.

Some changes are logical and won’t cause any arguments, however other ones have the potential to wind up some batsmen/fielders who aren’t up to speed with the changes.

There are plenty of other smaller tweaks and amendments that I’ve not got to so I heartily recommend having a read of the Laws and the accompanying ‘explanation’ booklet – if you want something that is just a confusing self-referential nightmare to read that is.  I mean seriously, who needs to offer a second document to actually explain the first one.  Just make the first one easier to read.

Follow Andy on Twitter:  @oshodisa or add your comments below as he’ll be around from time to time to answer any queries!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Nightmare In Dubai – Guest Post by SimonH

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

Clarke Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RoyalsWhiteSox JFS 9-15-14 1751

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magic of Sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@BlueEarthMngmnt