They Said We Were An Item, But My Thoughts I Tried To Hide Them – 2nd Test, Day 1

A single day’s play and the mood music sort of changes. After an eventful first test where key moments, and catching/fielding, went the way of the home team, today England did that thing that statisticians and analysts might call “regressing to the mean”. That is they dropped catches, didn’t appear to bowl the right lengths, didn’t hit the stumps on run out attempts, didn’t use reviews wisely, so that at the end of the day New Zealand cashed in and are in a very strong position. This on a pitch that, although good for batting, isn’t without a little bounce which I would imagine Kyle Jamieson in particular is going to really look forward to.

I would be lying to you if I said I watched all of the play. I have a dog to walk and a house to maintain while my wife is away, so that is (a) how I missed all the wickets that fell (two, I confess, while napping on the sofa – if you have read my non-league football stuff you will know that three grounds have tried to charge me OAP rates so I am getting on) and (b) this partial report on today is being written at 11 pm at (tautologous) night. By now you may well have seen the highlights, or read the other reports, so go knock yourself out, they probably watched it all!

There seemed to be a feeling that things were going England’s way when Kane Williamson pulled out with covid. Now no-one seems hugely bothered with this and New Zealand are not packing their bags to leave, the main concern (other than his health) was that this might weaken the visitors and perhaps emblematic of a change in fortune for England. The visitors brought in Henry Nicholls who might have played instead of Mitchell in the 1st test, and made Tom Latham captain. Matt Henry came in for Patel and de Grandhomme was replaced by another Bracewell (Michael – making his debut). England are unchanged from the team that started at Lord’s, with Leach back to fitness. England won the toss and chose to field. New Zealand would have done the same. I’ve never been a fan of that defence of a decision.

New Zealand got off to a solid start, running excepted, and the runs began to flow. After an hour of watching England get some bounce, but not a huge amount of threat against Tom Latham and Will Young, my dog indicated I had better leave right now (an evergreen joke that one), and while I had a strong desire to stay, showing jealousy for those who might be able to still watch, I left, and said to the TV, England, don’t let me down. [enough, enough Will Young].

England got two wickets in two balls just before lunch, but then Conway and Nicholls stopped the bleeding, with Conway in particular cruising along at a fair old clip. Again, one got two in four or so overs, with Stokes and Anderson repeating the wicket takers. By then England had already dropped Nicholls, with Nasser on comms in forgiving mood. At 169 for 4, and a debutant due in next, and a perceived long tail, England appeared slightly in front, but that would be the last success. Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell reprised their Lord’s partnership and finished the day unbeaten on 81 and 67 respectively, and an unbroken partnership of 149.

Chris said to me, when I commented that the piece didn’t exactly write itself today, that it was a normal day’s test cricket, and we’ve been used to 200 plays 170 and such like. There is a point to that, and a lot of my thoughts, as they are, go to similar days, and it has a first day of 2004 at Trent Bridge feel when after the end of Day 1, New Zealand were well on top. They had made 295 for 4, but England struck back and won the game (a 4th innings century of great class by Graham Thorpe – and we all wish him well). Games can turn around, and series can turn around. Lord’s Day 3 was a great example of that too. But there needs to be early wickets with the new ball, and some consideration of what it takes to get those dismissals, because the bowling and plans seemed pretty confused in the absence of much swing. Potts finding out how tough test cricket can be, Leach expected to perform miracles on a Day 1 pitch, Broad going at a fair old rate.

Finally, and I need to get off to bed, test cricket is a huge leveller. The only thing England didn’t catch at Lord’s was covid, today they really missed chances, most notably Joe Root spilling a simple chance to dismiss Mitchell when he had only 3. I can’t comment on a wobble or not, because, frankly, I didn’t notice it, but it is really, really interesting how the commentators started to make excuses for a dolly drop. I am not asking them to berate Root. I was a crap crap slip fielder, it is hard. One wonders if this were Pope, Foakes or Crawley missing an easy chance whether the world would be so forgiving. Root knows, he doesn’t need molly-coddling, but it’s just symptomatic sometimes of how the game works. I shouldn’t let it bother me, but I wouldn’t write a blog if I could just turn the other cheek. Other chances went down, a bit harder, but England will live to rue them should they end up on the wrong end of this.

That’s the fear. England are going to face, in all likelihood, a minimum 400. This will mean someone, or more than someONE, hanging about and batting England into the game. That’s not been their strong point. Day 2 is going to be very interesting.

Post Script – Mark Taylor, who I absolutely loved in the comms box last time, was clearly a special appointment and was today subbed in by Darren Gough. I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, as he came across as a thinking observer with several really good points throughout the day. There was a bit more “bantz” than at Lord’s between the others, maybe because the day wasn’t quite as gripping, but I think there has been a decided change in tone in the Sky team, and I may be in a minority, but I like it. They need to keep that up, in my view. There was one funny part where Gough thought a pint of beer at the test was around £5, and the Sky producer put the prices up and showed they were £6.80. Gough then said he wouldn’t know, as he doesn’t remember the last time he had to buy one in the ground. A serious point to note is, of course, most of the pundit and former player class have absolutely no clue what punters have to pay for stuff. Gough isn’t alone in this, and I’m not having a go. Someone on twitter thought I was being anti-northerner and anti-working class pointing this out, which just shows, now 8 years since this blog went fairly mad, that there is still capability for a Twitter person to shock and sadden me with stupidity. Me? Anti-working class. He’s never met me, obvs.

Comments on anything you want, and I have no idea who is doing Day 2, below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viewing Figures – A Ramble Through Facts

We’ve another guest post from Andy Oliver, this time about the viewing figures for cricket over the last few years.  It’s a subject that isn’t easy to find hard facts on given the reticence of Sky to tell anyone how many people watch of course.  As ever with a guest post, our sincere thanks to Andy for writing it, and he’ll be around to answer any questions – or of course you can track him down on Twitter – @oshodisa

Don’t forget we’ve also got Man In a Barrel’s piece about county finances – that you can find here: https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2017/02/17/guest-post-a-look-at-county-finances/


 

A topic of discussion that comes around occasionally is that due to Sky’s lockout of coverage, there is nowhere near as many viewers of cricket as there was 10 years ago.

How true is this?  Has anyone seen any facts, figures or discussion?  I bow to any MSM who have covered this but I cannot recall coming across that many actual facts or discussion (queue the first reply being a list of 4 articles covering the same ground!).  We often hear that 8m people watched at one point of 2005 Ashes, but no one ever says how many people watched ‘Cooks Redemption’ (TM Nasser 2015) Ashes victory.

A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me…

I’ve gathered this information from barb.co.uk, so cannot vouch for its accuracy, but they appear to be an industry body and say all the right things.  It’s been interesting seeing what info can be found on their website.  To generate their stats they have something like 5000 homes who provide a representative selection of the population.  These homes have automatic program trackers fitted to keep a log of what is watched.  They are then multiplied up to give a number of viewers and Bob’s your uncle.

The data publically available is not particularly user friendly for this type of research (There is a lot of data that I’ve had to plough through one weekly graph at a time).  I think that each individual result is an average for the duration of the program, rather than peak viewers at any given moment.  For example, the 4th(?) Ashes test in 2005 peaked at 8 million viewers but the program averaged 4 million viewers.  Please bear this in mind as I write below – I may play a little loose with terminology, but unless I explicitly state anything different, I mean the average number of viewers in any given broadcast as reported by BARB (so the 4 million, not the 8 million).  I’ve had to make a few educated guesses where info is not available or a particular programme is off the bottom of the week’s viewing figures.

 

Only the Facts Ma’am…

Since 2012 we have the following showing the maximum number of viewers any single day of a Test match play received.

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Most viewers 497,000 647,000 429,000 805,000 427,000

 

So it’s a bit up and down, but arguably viewing figures are sitting at an even level with intermittent peaks, but what do they represent?  Well, 2015 and 2013 were Ashes years.  It appears that Australia have a large impact on how many people watch cricket on Sky.

Non-Ashes years appear ‘stable’ between 400,000 – 500,000, but our Australian friends give us a significant boost.

So a bit of judicious reviewing of Australia’s last four visits (including you know when) gives us;

 

Test vs Australia
2015 2013 2009 2005
Most viewers 647,000 805,000 1,109,000 4,630,000

So, the most viewed single day’s play attracted over 4.6 million viewers (average remember, not peak) in 2005, and this has declined to less than 650,000 viewers in 2015.  Sky have lost up to 4 million people who showed an interest in cricket back when it was free to air on Channel 4.

Where have all these fans gone?

And remember that these are the most watched days of play.  The average viewers for the series shows us;

 

2015 2013 2009 2005
Average viewers across series 360,444 470,434 668,190 2,760,000

 

Again, this is a significant decline from on average 2.7 million people watching a series to just over 360,000 people.

So, talking broadly, about half the peak viewers for any given broadcast stay on to watch more of a series than just one day.  This number will be swung by rain days / early finishes – but I would not have thought it would be that significant to massively affect the above.

Why are people not watching as much cricket?  Is it the time it takes (this is an assessment of Test matches remember), or is it the quality of the matches?  Obviously the opposition matters, but why has the number of viewers even for Australia decreased?

Are the ECB aware of these numbers?  Do they even care given that Sky are currently happy to fill their schedules with easy to produce programming and pay the ECB handsomely for it?  Do Sky care given that cricket costs peanuts compared to how much they pay for football?  I wonder how much Sky makes on subscriptions and advertising for their £65 million yearly investment with the ECB.

Let’s take a quick look at the top three viewed broadcasts for the last 4 Ashes.

2015 2013 2009 2005
Top three viewed broadcasts 647,000 805,000 1,109,000 4,630,000
476,000 701,000 1,033,000 4,030,000
471,000 668,000 951,000 3,370,000

 

This gives an idea of how sustainable the top viewing figures are.  As we can see, 2005 quickly loses over a million viewers, but equally it is just one day’s play that kept the peak of 2015 above the half million mark (no prizes if you guessed that was Broads 8-fer-peanuts at Trent Bridge (I think)).  Both have lost about a quarter of their viewers between the peak and the third place broadcasts.

I presume that this is a normal pattern as there will be peaks and troughs – especially over the course of a test summer, but the raw reach of cricket appears to be significantly diminishing.

 You can’t handle the Truth!

No matter how it is spun, Test cricket attracts fewer TV viewers year on year.  Is this because test cricket it boring (dominated by home series advantage), or because it does not have the visibility of (until recently) the IPL.  At least the IPL was available on ITV 4.  That may be another one to look at – viewers between IPL on ITV and Sky.

In fact;

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
IPL finals 116,000* 100,000* 536,000 398,000 469,000
77,000 59,000

 

The IPL changed from ITV to Sky from 2015… hmmm, there is a pattern here!

A note about the Sky numbers – The final match was not on the ten most watched list on BARB (Or I could not find it), so I put the highest match actually watched in that week.  Not perfect, but it’s something to go on.  The 2nd numbers in Sky’s stewardship are the 10th most watch programme in the week the final took place (on the channel they were showing the IPL on).  Suggesting that the IPL final got fewer viewers than 59,000 and 77,000 for 2015 and 2016 respectively.

If that is correct… Wow…   Wow…

For all the good that Sky have brought to cricket; the technology, the quality, the analysis (back when they did that well – but I remember first encountering Hughes as the Analyst on Channel 4, when he did actual analysis properly), etc, they seem to have form for slashing the viewing numbers a sport used to get on Free to Air, and for reducing its availability and visibility.

But, a quick look at the last World T20: when England got Brathwaited in the final.  This tournament was in India so time zones come into play for a start, but Sky got over a million viewers for the final.  In fact England’s lowest number of viewers was 323,000 against Afghanistan on a Wednesday, which is basically as much as the peak number of viewers Sri Lanka got in the May tests which followed soon after.

So maybe there is hope there, that there are people who are interested.

If you build it, they will come…

Maybe we have seen in all the above that the broadcasters/ECB should be using T20 and ODIs as a gateway into Test cricket, not as an alternative.  Not everyone will make the transition, especially when Test cricket is sometimes dry, boring and predictable.

Thinking about that – any guesses for how many people watch the Blast Final (or whatever it was called before that).  I might have come across these at the same time as looking for the above.

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Blast 262,000 229,000 384,000 245,000 433,000
Leic 0 v Ars 0 Tot 0 v Eve 0 Eve 2 v Ars 2 SWA 1 v ManU 4 not on tv
BT sports Sky Sky Sky
608,000 691,000 946,000 1,833,000

 

At least the Blast appears to get more viewers than the IPL!

The Blast final is on a Saturday afternoon/evening so I’ve found the equivalent Premier League game on TV at approximately the same time.

As you can see there is a big decrease from the Premier league viewers to those watching the Blast final, but maybe not as much as I might have expected.  I would have thought more games on a Saturday evening would have got over 1 million viewers, but evidently not.

The football is just a diversion from the above table though.  In reality the Blast figures should be compared with other cricket.  Now making a comparison against Test matches is like comparing apples and oranges, but at least they are still fruit.

As we can see from the above information in 2016 more than twice as many watched Tests as they did  the Blast. That must be a scary stat for the ECB, and it’s no wonder they want to re-tool the Blast into a different competition.

Houston, We Have A Problem…

On a personal note (and one that may be echoed by those who read this), I have seen club cricket slowly wither as people participate less and less.  There are a number of reasons for this (my own personal reason is that I have a toddler now who takes up a lot of my time so I cannot justify spending 15 Saturdays over summer out and about like I used to).

But the number of teams that struggle to get a side out, or fold half way through the season seems to be increasing (purely anecdotal, but it does feel that way).

My village pushed forward on the back of 2005.  That was a watershed ‘rebirth’ of the aging side.  We (the royal we, I wasn’t around then!) had a massive influx of juniors who saw the Ashes and wanted some of it.  They are still playing now and are vital young 20 somethings.  We don’t see that now though.  Most of the Sunday juniors are there because it’s free child-minding for the parents (again anecdotal, but from a senior member of the club who does the training).  Often the kids don’t seem that interested.

Why are fewer people playing cricket?  Why are fewer people watching cricket?  Does it take too much time, do people not like the characters associated with the game (either watching it, playing it or dare I say reporting it)?  Are there no heroes to worship (Mine was Atherton growing up…. No, I don’t know why….).  Nowadays people want to bat like Pietersen, Gayle, Kohli, Butler etc.  This is great – but these talents need to be put on display so that more people see them and want to emulate them.

I’m serious… and don’t call me Shirley

What’s the solution for getting cricket back into the public consciousness?  I’m sure greater people than me are actively working on the problem (or at least I hope to God they are).  I know it’s been discussed on and off here on BOC.

I’m not sure getting Test cricket on FTA TV would work.  Not in the short term at least, however there must be a way to get the Blast or some international ODIs/T20s on there.

I don’t watch Premiership rugby, but usually enjoy sitting down to the World Cup or Six Nations.  I’m probably the definition of a fair weather fan where rugby is concerned.

I would watch rugby because it is available.  If it had been available for me to play when I was younger/fitter I might have gone in that direction.  I don’t hunt down rugby on Sky/BT now.  I don’t have the time nor the inclination, but I do watch rugby free to air; I know about the sport and in the future I might start going to matches & watching more.

Where is the draw for the fans in cricket?

It may not be the answer, but it surely must be the starting point.  Everyone agrees that there are more ‘distractions’ available for kids growing up.  They may not sit down in front of TV and be glued for a day (like I was way back when).  But they are certainly not going to sit down in front of Sky and watch it.

It’s all well and good catering to the hardcore fans (is that us?), who go to games, despite the cost, who pay for Sky, despite the cost.  Just to actually see some action.  But where is the next generation going to come from?  Launching a Twitter channel is not engaging new fans.  They won’t go looking for it without hearing/seeing some cricket.

This is a Twitter exchange I happened to see from dear old Bumble.  Don’t know what started it, or the exact details, but it highlights the mindset.  If you put it there, people will come, which isn’t true, you need to make people come.  The only people who check Sky/ECB Twitter are people who are already fans.  This is not enough;

tweet

 

The ECB need to decide what they want from their cricket.  Do they want Sky’s (or BT Sport’s which is another topic) pounds, or do they want to get more people watching it (live and on TV), more people talking about it and ultimately more people playing it.

You be the jury…

This has been a WWAAAYYYYY longer article than I ever intended, so well done if you have stayed with me to the end.  Please tell me what you think?  I could have gone into early summer versus prime summer, what happened on those ‘most watched’ days, what day of the week got the most viewers, ODIs & T20Is, World Cups (more than I did) and who knows what else.   It’s probably a good job I stopped here!

And my topic headers will be no challenge to anyone who has done the Crossword!