Taxing Times?

The start of a new season at Lord’s and through the North Gate to the bag security check and  body search, as ever courteously done. If 2019 is going to be anything like previous seasons, and it probably will be, those doing the searching and wishing a good day will usually be  young, not over-paid and given the nature of the work, somewhere else tomorrow. As we reach the end of a decade that began with ‘austerity’ and all in it together, earnings of £12,500 are allowed now for those with jobs, there the next day or not, before paying income tax.

Two members of the Sunday League generation headed to the Mound Stand; born in a favourable decade for buying a house, the blogger’s mate and  partner have recently cashed in their chips on their property. A boy from the north done pretty good over the years, lived at number 16 when  Andrew and Ruth Strauss were good neighbours; but middle England, Pitshanger not Park Lane. Taking capital gains for what they are, allowances and exemptions totted up before payments of tax on income for him something like three to four times that for those at the gate, but a modest multiple still by comparison with some who will be along later this summer.

Gross inequities to be sure, a lot, although by no means all, coming  from the cyclical up of house prices. We have been here before, three times as it happens in the case of the Sunday League generation. The last cycle ended in 2008, like its predecessors, 17 years after it started, time to regret, forget and do it again then; although this time round the wealth transfers to the nation’s (grand) parents have been much greater, helping keep up the numbers of Sky subscribers and making a day at the Test at £150 affordable.

Ten miles west lies Southall with a population made up very largely of those with a South Asian heritage, a local travel company supplies adverts between overs on Sky and if you were to listen to some, one place where cricket’s new audience is going to be found.  A decade ago the local authority counted the number of cricket pitches in public spaces there, found 13, 31 in the borough as whole (Ealing),  and  expected then a need for a further six.  Divide by two for the actual numbers last year.

It is not in the least bit difficult to connect the decline on the commons with tax breaks for those prospering . The journalist James Bloodworth in his piece ‘Is capitalism killing cricket?’ goes back to the 1980s to point to the beginnings of the current decline of the game, the long form particularly. Certainly the rise and rise of managerialism has been no friend of cricket in schools and the problems faced by those aiming for a generational  renewal of interest now, any format, should put them in a place where they get some space.

The muddle surrounding The 100 has left those who take an interest wondering why they should. Looked at from the outside in 2019 the ECB appears cast as the gambler late at night with losses to recover unwisely taking big risks. Those trying to connect, looking for cool, could do themselves a favour by binning the management speak and then take a lead from Gareth Southgate about being honest and to the point. The game will find its own waistcoat.

If there is to be an uptake that sustains, the international game still seems the more likely place for it. Twice in the last forty years cricket has come up big, individual brilliance rising from the depths and a moment seized after an opposing captain’s mistake. In both 1981 and 2005 cricket, a civilising sound of the English summer, arguably did something for those outside it:  Botham’s Ashes in a country with  3mn+ unemployed, and in 2005, when a war in the desert still rankled with many.  The open question now is whether the game could actually do it again?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County Memberships 2019

Do county members get a decent return for their subs? With the 2019 season ahead members paying the adult rate now could be spending anything between £175 at Trent Bridge  and £309 at Taunton, although there are discounts for seniors, joint members and other categories available to varying extents.  County-by-county numbers are downloadable from the stats page.

39 days  (CC, the group stages for RL and Blast) watching Glamorgan  was available for £142 for those who paid up by February this year and joint memberships at Nottingham for £252, on the face of it, are not expensive for those who get to, say, 10-15 days over the course of a season. The numbers a comment, perhaps, on what the market will bear, membership totals at Cardiff have been in the 2,000’s for much of the last decade, and at Trent Bridge on its general financial stability. If the unit of measure for watching cricket live in England this summer is the cost of a day at the (Lord’s) Test, county memberships, in most cases, are less than a day for two.

For those of us counting in £ the average cost is close to £240, as to how much cricket comes with it the criticism that the Championship has been shunted into the sidings and played in April and September has been addressed in 2019, maybe at least partly in response to The Cricketer’s Blueprint last August. The number of days scheduled  mid-May to mid-August is around twice what it was last year and is now back to somewhere closer to the norm in the decade after 2005.

Good news for those who are able to watch during the week but not  especially for those who aren’t: CC days scheduled for the weekend in 2019 will, despite the  tweaking by some counties of the original schedule issued by the ECB, fall overall from 129 to 88.  If you can’t or don’t make the early season Championship weekends in April, much play to follow on Saturday or Sunday through the summer there is not.

In short, the 2019 schedule might prompt thoughts that the ECB  has a certain tendency to rather ‘forget’ members and spectators in the domestic game. CC and 50-over cricket during the week for a mature audience, hospitality and a night-out for those at T20 games for those in their middle years, but not so many days in the season when some might transit from a shorter format to a longer one, or occasional attenders or newcomers find it easy to go.

Whether there is a sealant of sorts actually being applied  to the county game via its fixture list, or not, overall about 1 Blast match in 4 will be played at the weekend starting at young junior plus mum friendly times.  In 2019 Worcestershire are playing 4  home T20 fixtures on Sunday afternoons, if other counties went back to something closer to the old Sunday League scheduling for their home games, the Blast, and the county game as a whole, might have more of a future than is sometimes now suggested.

 

 

 

A Dividing Game?

The afternoon of the 2018 Royal London  final was spent chatting to a players’ agent, an enthusiast for the ECB’s new competition amidst the game’s traditional audience, he made the point that for some of the players he worked with it might be a chance  to something like double their earnings from playing the game.

A polite conversation ended with agreement that cricket needs to attract more younger spectators than were present that day. ‘The 100’ is billed as the route to this end and for its duration large incentives to focus on the white-ball game seem to be coming the way of many players, in a sport with small numbers at the top on central contracts well remunerated, the great majority of professionals a great deal less so.

As to the effect on the playing base for Test cricket this brings us to the extent to which the game has already divided into those who specialise in one format or another. In the 2018 English season there were  450+  players who appeared at least once for their county; of these,  around 300 appeared in the Blast, one marker for the numbers who might conceivably think of themselves as possibles for the new competition, and of these, around 80% (230+) also played some Championship cricket.

FC List A T20
Did not play at all 77 (34) 172 (101) 152(111)
Only played 85(60) 3(3) 52(18)

England-qualified in brackets.

As a marker this is, of course, open to the comment that those who played more often, those who performances keep them in and around their side over a season, may in many cases be more of a possible, if not a probable. The Worcestershire team, for example, that won the 2018 Blast had four players who were ever-present, and some 90% or so of the names on their team sheets during the competition were occupied by 12 players.  These are not numbers to surprise particularly, around 90% of the places in the Surrey Championship winning side were occupied by 14 players, and the graphic below shows that player counts for the game as a whole were not very dis-similar.

The players’ appearance numbers are lined up in increasing order, Joe Root’s  for example (3 Championship matches, 1 T20) put him centre-left, those for Joe Denly (14 and 13) put him at the right hand end. T20 cricket is  concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of players than is the case in the first-class game, and if ‘the 90%ers’ were taken as a another marker for ECB competition possibles,  then the number drops to just under 230. Around two-thirds of these players were also ‘90%ers’ in their Championship sides.

‘The 90%ers’ T20 FC FC, who play T20
Total 229 271 146
England-Qualified 153 203 107
England-Qualified aged under 26 60 85 42

In short, taking a broad brush for some sense of the overall picture, while some specialisation there be, and not all of it short-term overseas hires by any means, in 2018 there were more T20 cricketers who were also Championship players; amongst the England qualified they numbered about a half of the Championship ‘regulars’. The question prompted by this is what is going to be done to solidify the careers of those  who see themselves as red-ball cricketers?

 

Data on appearances compiled  from Cricket Archive, nationalities taken from Cricinfo. The second table is based on rankings by county.

 

ECB Broadcasting Revenues

In recent years the ECB has generated revenues averaging around £145mn per year, of which something like two-thirds, close to a £100mn, has come from broadcasting. The deal with Sky announced last year to start in 2020 has been widely reported as being worth £1.1bn over 5 years, much bounty, and on the face of it more than twice the current sums.

As to where it is going to be spent, media reports this summer now gone have given figures of a £40mn budget for the new ECB competition, closer to £60mn once the payouts to the counties have been allowed for.  Specifically mentioned, £8mn to the players, but the details of the rest a bit of a mystery basically; plenty left for marketing, staging fees and so on and it would be a sad state if a big part of it was not for promoting participation.

But looking at the general picture, the £1.1bn figure suggests around £120mn more every year, so are the sums that have been mentioned in relation to the 100 so far really only half the story? Or was the headline number for the Sky contract a certain sort of overstatement, knowingly done, made available to encourage the adoption of a new ECB competition at a time when it had not been agreed?

A part of the answer to this question is how solid, reliable, any of these numbers are: the £145mn figure comes from the ECB’ s accounts, averaged out over the last four years, so allowing for the fact that revenues are considerably higher in a World Cup year. The broadcasting revenue comes from the ECB’s Annual Return for 2016, which that year gave a detailed breakdown:  for 2015, a World Cup year, and 2016, not; a little bit of extrapolating the 2016 figure to two other non-World Cup years gives an average figure near £100mn (£2018). In short both numbers are solid enough for a look at the general picture here.

More questionable are the sums reported for the 2020 Sky deal. A first question is how much of it is guaranteed, how much add-ons. If the ‘game-changer’ of a deal is dependent on add-ons, there seems to have been no public mention or hint of it so far; the words ‘up to’ that are used sometimes in reporting the contracts and transfers of footballers absent. The ECB’s Annual Return shows that (relatively small) sums were  paid then from an option Sky had; the open question here is whether a much bigger deal is much more dependent on options held by the broadcaster.

To be sure there are other factors that could create a sizeable difference between the headline figure and ‘actual’ revenue to the ECB: tax payments pull the numbers one way, bounty from the World Cup(s) the other;  although it is certainly possible that there will be £10mns extra per year from 2020  aside from the 100 budget given so far, a tester to be sure for the ECB board doing direction for the game as a whole.

To be spent quite how if so? In the generality of things the game has a problem with too many TMGs and declining participation, to which the response of the business minded governing body thus far has been to partly nationalize the sport; ownership, production and regulation of the new competition, the ECB.

There are fundamental reasons why other governing bodies in other sports do not do this, the problems surrounding a common owner of two teams playing one another being one of them. It is a no-no in football and is the first point covered in the FA’s Owners and Directors Test, there in the interests of maintaining some degree of sporting integrity. The ECB appear to be treating this as a secondary issue, which in  a sport that has its share of gambling issues is a poor signal to give.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oval Summer 2018

While the Surrey team taking to the field in the opening fixture against Hants (above) look generally together, there were not that many signs of the season that was to come. In early summer form there is of course little or none for anyone and the Oval wicket in particular had its reputation for doing draws.

The fourth game and  Sam Curran taking a 10-for against Yorkshire gave their season momentum, an innings win to be followed by those against Hants, Somerset and, in July, Notts. From the spectating end of things the Championship was by then on hold rather, but June did mark a visit from teams of Aboriginal cricketers a 150 years after the 1858 tour,  and at the end of July there was an entertaining KSL match between the Surrey Stars and Lancashire Thunder;  t20 cricket at the Oval with a Championship-type ambience and a competition that deserves a more settled future than it currently seems to have.

The first tied match in the history of the Championship was the Surrey v Lancashire fixture of 1894. This year might easily have been another one, a really well contested match (Surrey 211 and 306, Lancashire 247 and 264),  and, at the end, with six the difference, Matt Parkinson fended at a delivery from Morne Morkel and was instinctively, brilliantly, caught at short-leg by Will Jacks.

It was a gripping final afternoon and a crucial, if not decisive, moment in the season: what turned out to be the penultimate ball from the other end was a swing from Tom Bailey that did not connect with a very short leg-side boundary; and had the result gone the other way it might have unsettled Surrey’s campaign, de-railed it even. By the end of the Notts game the following week (below) the body language of the players suggested another story, and Somerset then did tie their fixture with Lancashire; the 24th in the competition’s history.

Early September brought the final Test with India, much attention with and appreciation for the career of Alistair Cook. There was also an interesting final day when for a time the Indians  were on course to emulate their 1979 predecessors; the year of Sunil Gavaskar’s  double century, when they drew a match at the ground scoring 400+ in the 4th innings. At the end of this one there were markers of Sam Curran’s progress as he set up Jimmy for the final delivery of the series.

Surrey were no question very  worthy county champions in 2018 and there was an excellent finale with the champions of 2017; the heightened senses of don’t miss a ball cricket on the final afternoon for a second time, nearly but not quite a record comeback, nearly the 25th tie.

To be sure they have  a financial advantage over other counties, part of which is returned to those who come to watch: £142 for the Championship and List A season, 12 guest tickets included, £5 for a KSL match and in the way cricket does bargains £20 for the 5th day of the Test. Reasonable sums in any year, although the cricket in 2018 exceeded reasonable expectations by a distance. It also funds high-end signings, Morne Morkel this year; with a career of more than 80 Tests behind him it was very evident just much he cared about playing county cricket this summer, which for those spectating was a very good thing to see and a message to others.

The Championship Schedule

The Championship has made a welcome re-appearance in the last month after its ‘break for the summer’ and if comments about its sidelining are not exactly new, the point being made has become more a lot more pointed. In 2016 almost exactly a half of the competition was scheduled towards the middle of the summer, since when through a combination of reducing the number of games to 14 and other changes to the fixture list this has declined half-way to not all. The obvious general question here is where is all this heading?

As to the wait between games at the 18 county grounds the longest gaps are not surprisingly at counties that do  cricket festivals on outgrounds, although not all those that play at outgrounds have  particularly long intervals at their main ground. But the impact of  taking the game away from the middle of the English summer in the last couple of years is plainly a general one and for most resulted in a gap of something like two months in 2018.

The CC ‘Summer Break’, no of Days 2018 (2016)

Headingley 127 (63) Chester-le-Street 61 (47)
The Oval 96 (39) Derby 61 (50)
Bristol 77  (89) Leicester 56 (34)
Hove 75 (38) Northampton 56 (39)
Lord’s 68  (35) Southampton 56 (31)
Edgbaston 67  (31) Cardiff 51 (61)
Taunton 67  (39) Canterbury 41 (44)
Old Trafford 64 (50) Trent Bridge 41 (32)
Chelmsford 61 (31) Worcester 40 (37)

 

If rhythm in the cricket season comes from continuity and at least some regularity in the fixture list it has gone missing in the Championship scheduling and there are other variations that from the spectating end of things are difficult to fathom. The six rounds of matches in the first part of the season are played across the weekend, the four rounds of matches in September when the competition reaches its climax, are played during the week.  Matches in 2018 started on all seven days  of the week; those that began two days after the August bank holiday had a scheduled Saturday finish when domestic football was a rival attraction and the following week finished on a Friday when football was on an international break.

In a world of  free streaming and Beeb radio commentary  at some point this might very well risk an exodus of members, the game’s bedrock joining the Chief National Selector in seeing the Championship as an I-pad experience. The August issue of The Cricketer magazine included a piece from its editor making the case for more red-ball cricket mid-summer, central it might be thought to the competition retaining its strategic importance in the game; although with the ECB pushing on with The Hundred and some county voices responding to it by arguing the case for an expanded Blast, the problem for the appreciators of the game’s long-form is evidently a fundamental one.

It is a long way from  obvious that there are enough figures in the cricket establishment with incentives to stabilise the place of red-ball game. George Dobell wrote a piece this summer on the presence of a Cricket Supporters’ Association, a body to give the game’s supporters more of a voice. FWIW, almost 20 years ago this one blogger had some involvement with the setting up of football’s Supporters’ Direct, from which a fairly clear message that there are issues that ‘burn’ (existential ones at many football clubs then) and attract support, and there are good intentions about governance changes, the election of supporters’ reps to boards, which are often the long-road. The tensions within the game being the way they are the need for a campaign for red-ball cricket looks real enough.

 

 

 

Data sourced from Cricket Archive.

 

 

 

 

Dean Park, Bournemouth

Hampshire versus Middlesex 3rd September 1978.

The current issue of The Nightwatchman is largely  given over to the influence that overseas players have had on  domestic cricket since the summer of 1968,  the season after the rules on their registration were relaxed. In the 1970s much of the excitement that followed came from West Indian cricketers who dominated on the international stage but who starred in domestic cricket as well.

Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Alvin Kallicharran had county careers that between them spanned more than 70 years, brilliant but also lasting, and apart from Roy Fredericks who by then had left Glamorgan, 10 of the West Indian team that won the inaugural World Cup in 1975 returned to play for their counties that summer, 6 of them in Sunday League fixtures the following day. Seen from 2018 the general strength of  West Indian cricket in the 70s and 80s, and the loyalty of the individual players to their respective counties, put the game decades ahead of football in helping combat prejudice.

As to the Sunday League match played on the 3rd September 1978 at Dean Park, after the mid-season exit of Barry Richards, it was a game largely won by Gordon Greenidge  batting about as well as at any time for his county.  The strong Hants team of the 70s were on the wane, but were to claim the JPL trophy that evening as he got on top against a Middlesex team, that boasted a bowling attack of  fellow Barbadian, Wayne Daniel, Mike Selvey , the ‘spin twins’ Phil Edmonds and John Emburey, and Mike Gatting.   Even after 40 years it is not at all difficult to remember just how hard Gordon Greenidge hit  a cricket ball, back over the bowler’s head as much as anywhere, and the general excitement, apprehension then relief that followed the ball’s trajectory after the shot, realising that someone might have to catch it, and then seeing the ball land in or sail over the hedges that surrounded the ground.

The Middlesex team that afternoon had nine players who either had or who would go on to play international cricket; although it was actually Norman ‘Smokey’ Featherstone that led the visitors’ reply, having also checked the Hants innings with the ball. Harry Pearson in his piece ‘The Journeymen’ points out just how important ‘bits and pieces’ players can be to their teams and how much appreciated they are at times by supporters as well; in the case of Norman Featherstone a career lasting a decade and more, giving ‘glue’ to a Middlesex team that was generally on the rise in the 70s.

In a separate piece titled ‘Box of Delights’, Matthew Engel recalls happy summer days past  when county cricket was quite widely covered by the national press, but also by local, independently-minded journalists  as well.  It could fairly be said that the press box at Dean Park, to the left in ‘the cowshed’, did basics;  a building shared with the scorers to the right, a store of historic equipment in the rear which also provided a place for the umpires to change in.  But a way of life for those doing reports that had a certain charm to be sure, particularly then perhaps; even if, unlike their colleagues going round the nation’s racecourses, there were no telephonists to assist with dispatches.

There were other ways, now largely forgotten, in which domestic cricket exercised its voice then;  tea-time interviews given by county players and officials as  a part of the Beeb’s coverage on Sundays being one of them. Twenty minutes or so once a week through the summer months; ground level views in a manner of speaking, often from pleasant settings at a time when the game was still largely viewed as a game, and batsmen who walked, such as Hampshire’s captain Richard Gilliat, won their share of trophies. In his interview that summer he expressed  complete scepticism about the long-term benefits of the Packer revolution  for ‘ordinary’ county cricketers, which from the vantage point of 2018 is a judgement that seems to have been largely, if not entirely, right.

Of Dean Park, Hants continued playing home fixtures there until the early 1990s after a decade in which the county of the Hambledon club began to rather lose its way off the field. If cricket is a mirror of sorts to the world beyond, the Rose Bowl, conceived in the late 80s during the excesses of the ‘Lawson Boom’, led to decades of financial strain in Southampton, as an essentially solvent cricket club making small surpluses became something rather different. Others since have added to the over-expansion of TMGs and are still counting the cost.

Hampshire 221-4, (C.G. Greenidge 122), Middlesex 195ao (N.G. Featherstone 76, T.E. Jesty 5-32).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching T20 Cricket

Lancashire Lightning versus Yorkshire Vikings, Now TV, 20th July;  MCC  versus Nepal versus Netherlands, 29th July, Lords;  Surrey Stars versus Lancashire Thunder, 31st  July, the Oval.

The Roses rivalry produced a game of short form cricket that was about as good as it gets and, rather unusually for T20 cricket on TV, the memory of this match, which won Lancashire by 1-run, might actually last for a while.  It also helped set up the Championship fixture that followed afterwards, a message for the fixture schedulers maybe, but overall Counties 2 ECB 0 in the week after the football World Cup.

The MCC’s triangular tournament deserved better luck with the weather, but the two ICC associate nations did get some time out on the hallowed turf, and for the Marylebone Club players, there was two 36-ball contests as well. An afternoon helped  rather a lot  by the noisy, infectious, enthusiasm of the Nepalese support, several hundred in the Grandstand, the nature of which was rather similar to that given at some of the events during London 2012. The Dutch in the crowd did European style support and there was also  a sprinkling of MCC members in attendance. The non-aligned were not very many; this blogger was one, curious enough to go, but there mainly from having been a heat wave absentee from a Blast fixture earlier in the week.

Two days later July was dressed up again and playing her tune at the Oval, where the KSL fixture was played in front of a weekday sized county audience, and despite the ground gearing up for the men’s match in the evening, it had much of the ambience of a county game.

The match was dominated by the performances of Natalie Sciver who made an undefeated 95, and  Nicole Bolton who replied for the visitors with 87, out leg before to the Surrey star and Star. In the end the visitors won with one ball to spare following a 4, then 6, after threatening to implode; a good T20 finish. The match evidently held the attention of those watching and for an afternoon’s entertainment at the people’s Home of Cricket £5 still and a bargain.

From which a couple of observations: as a spectacle the shortest form of the game is very reducible to its fundamentals of boundary hits, moments of brilliant fielding and extras referred to under a variety of names, taking singles and coming back for a second included. To which fine taken for what it is, the Roses contest was in practice  84 balls this year and it would have been hard to have been a much better watch if it had been 120. Or a 100. If the short form of the  game is going to expand globally via the Olympics, it would not be at all surprising to see it played as T10.

Whether the cricket is played in Manchester or Kathmandu, history and context is a gift to the present from the past; a fundamental that the ECB certainly appears to be trying to ignore with its proposed competition from 2020. The MCC triangular tournament had obvious purpose, but sitting in the Lord’s Grandstand and looking the other way did prompt the thought who is going to identify with the 8-gon tournament coming in from the Nursery End?

 

 

 

Burnaby Road, Portsmouth

Hampshire versus Yorkshire Sunday 6th August 1978

The United Services Ground in the 1970s had a certain robustness to it, the feel to spectating given partly by the sounds emanating from the Officers’ Club in one corner and the famed heavy roller, weighing over 5 tonnes, stationed more or less directly opposite. Behind the rugby stand opposite in the photo, the railway line, and, on one side of the ground the festival tents with deck chairs for spectators, adjacent to the entrance and the impressive King James’s Gate.

Modernity then was in the form of the rugby clubhouse cum pavilion next to the pavilion used by the  players; offering home-made teas on Sunday afternoons and social history in the form of the photographs of the rugby teams over the decades, and the distinctive looking figures that played for them. Burnaby Road also did something of a split scoreboard, with the main board to the left of the older pavilion and tin plates doing bowlers’ overs bowled on the other side.

Cricket Archive records first-class cricket starting with a match between a Cambridge University team and the visiting Australians in 1882, a week or so before the ashes of English cricket were urned at the Oval.  County Championship matches were first played in 1895, and wars and two seasons apart, continued until 2000.  An historic ground; as to the cricket played on Sunday 6th August 1978, the match rather foreshadowed what was to happen in the  World Cup Final a year later. In an era of outstanding West Indians, Gordon Greenidge batted brilliantly, scoring at a rate close to current norms in List A cricket; the visitors after a solid start, struggled rather (Hampshire 216-4 in 34 overs, G. Greenidge 116, Yorkshire 130ao, 28 overs).

Ambient pleasure in watching at Pompey came from its history and distinctive character, a good ground to perambulate and cricket by the sea as well; with the prospect of the Rose Bowl being otherwise used for several weeks in the summer of 2020, perhaps a Hampshire team will return to Portsmouth, or, if not, then to May’s Bounty in Basingstoke.

 

 

 

 

County Cricket and its Outgrounds

Chris Arnot’s book is a gentle nostalgia for county cricket past, times fondly remembered in pleasant  and sometimes beautiful settings, places where supporters were close the game and its players. Quite what constitutes a cricket festival is given some leeway by the author,  but there are over 50 grounds recalled and he understandably concludes with the wish that the game’s festivals do not become an extinct species.

Certainly some of the nostalgia  comes from remembering when those at the very top of the game played on club and school grounds; and also  on municipal grounds as well at times, such  as Clarence Park in Weston photographed here in 1978, a venue where player facilities while not unusual for public parks then could now be euphemistically described as limited. In a very different world forty years ago, the game’s best players were paid salaries for the season that were not a long way north of what a new graduate could then expect.

The 1970s was a rather turbulent decade to end the relatively egalitarian post WWII era in  Britain, although cricket arguably did a  decent job of adapting to change with the then shorter forms of the  game. The Sunday League was to a considerable extent played on outgrounds, 100 in all, as the game renewed itself by going local,  sometimes very local;  in the middle of the decade the competition was won by a Hants team with three ICC Hall of Fame cricketers at Darley (pop 5,000).

In the decades that followed the middle classes politically re-asserted their interests and cricket festivals saw growing numbers of corporate hospitality tents, that were later to become permanent boxes as the county game centralised, contracting the number of places where it was played. In a changing economy some company grounds were no longer used and with the advent of  4-day cricket, the historic festivals at Weston-super-Mare, Bath, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Eastbourne, Hastings, Folkestone, Maidstone, Ilford and Southend departed from the cricketing calendar. The festivals of the middle-classes, together with those of ‘Essex Man’, what went with them was the counties doing their bit for club cricket at those grounds and returning spectators giving in some cases decades long support to the game.

As to what this might tell anyone about the prospects for outground cricket in the future, in 2018 festivals there still are at  Arundel, Cheltenham, Guildford and Scarborough, and, if not necessarily named as such, 4-day games are on the calendar at Chesterfield, Colwyn Bay, Swansea, Southport and Tunbridge Wells as well. Most counties continue to play at least some cricket on outgrounds.

In the  August issue of The Cricketer the magazine’s editor makes the case for a more even distribution of the Championship games across the summer, something for the hearts and minds of the game’s  traditional supporters, although he does also make it clear that priorities in ECB fixture scheduling  are international cricket, the Blast, then other competitions.

If, as may well be, the amount of county cricket that is played in 2020 is reduced to some degree, it being a matter of which format(s), but that the financial distributions from the ECB to the counties are increased, then the extent to which outgrounds are used looks like a fairly open question. If the view that more Championship cricket should be played in July and August does prevail, it should at least maintain, if not extend, the number of 4-day games, albeit that  it might squeeze the number of limited overs fixtures.

The game of cricket is evidently caught between the centralising tendencies of the ECB and the counties, who still do something to spread the professional game around the country. This points to a fundamental problem, even if much of the public debate this summer has been over the merits or otherwise of a yet to be tried format for the game.  The county game has in the past done very similar competitions at the same time,  30 balls to make a point of  difference rather than 20, and in 1981, almost entirely forgotten now, 7 a side 10 over cricket was tried at football grounds.  It didn’t work then, although T10 cricket, 2 hour games, might well in the future.

On the long view county outgrounds are a marker of sorts, cast now as something of a counterweight to the game’s globally minded elites, who appear determined to introduce a competition in which they will regulate the integrity levels of the teams they will create, own and manage. Chris Arnot at the end of his book points to the continuing success of cricket at  Scarborough and the need for individual festivals to pay their way; to which amen, although coming at this more generally prompts the question could the game of cricket really afford  to not continue with its festivals?

 

 

 

 

 

A blog about English cricket