Summer’s Crown by Stephen Chalke

A beautifully illustrated book, written with great clarity by a hugely well-informed author; part social history, although as much as anything the strength of the book is the character portrayals of the players who played the game in different eras, individuals as different as Brian Close and Shane Warne for example. The format of the book, picking out particular performances and matches, teams in particular seasons works well; it is just a pity that many of the grounds that appear in the book are no longer in use by county teams.

It is the story of a competition which in the parlance of modern analysts is not particularly well-balanced; Surrey, Middlesex and Yorkshire have been champions in roughly half the years it has been played, three counties have still to win it and a fourth, Derbyshire, won  it once, before WWII. To some extent this seems to have been rectified in the modern era with the arrival of one-day competitions in the 1960s, and the history of the competition has surely been more interesting, happier, as the number of winners has increased over the years.

Quite how much the Championship and one-day competitions have fed off each other and in quite what ways is an interesting question, and is touched on in the book: a ‘grounded’ club like Essex, for example, first champions in 1979, six time winners now and have now won sixteen trophies in all. The likelihood of three counties still to win the Championship actually doing so at some point in the future, has also probably been generally helped by them winning their share of  limited-overs competitions; although not always, Gloucestershire in 1977 denied by Hampshire who they had earlier in the season narrowly defeated in a one-day semi-final en route to winning that trophy.

Deck chairs, trees at the county ground, Hove.

It is striking that the photographs in the counties section has just one, Trent Bridge, which is a test match venue and one that is a current county ground, Worcester. The view that county cricket is often at its best for spectators when sitting in deck chairs at tree-lined out grounds is well-represented in this book: Colwyn Bay or Cardiff, Aigburth or Old Trafford; Scarborough or Headingly? Hopefully at some point more matches will be played away from the centres.

The book comes with  handy stats for reference, some extras on the scorers and umpires.  There is also a contender for a gremlin on page 274, but nothing that  detracts from the pleasure of reading this book.

 

 

Champions Trophy 2017

As England neared their victory over Bangladesh in the opening game Michael Atherton commented that he expected more runs to be scored than was the case four years ago, observing that the game has ‘moved on’; the influence of heavier bats,  changing boundary ropes and mindsets at work amongst all other things. If he is right, and it is harder to know what ‘a good score’ is, then winning the  toss and fielding first seems likely to be an advantage.

As to the actual scores four years ago; overall almost 6000 runs  in the 15 matches played, an average rate of  5.3 runs per over, although these total figures are distorted rather by the four games affected by rain in 2013. Of the 11 games that weren’t, the average first innings total was around 230 and a score of 300 plus registered just once. Scores of under 200 were made four times. If the weather holds fair this month the question seems to be by how much will the numbers rise, although quite how exciting and/or interesting the cricket will be another matter again.

Forty-two years ago in the summer of 1975 England also hosted the first Prudential World Cup, sixty overs a side in a fifteen game tournament, with the West Indies the winners in a memorable final. Memorable because of the fluctuating fortunes of bat and ball , the early West Indian wickets, the brilliance of Clive Lloyd’s innings and late in the day the efforts of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson to retrieve a seemingly lost cause, in an innings that was to end with five run outs. 565 runs in all, at less than five an over; if it had been 50 over cricket perhaps the target would have been around 230 rather than the actual total of 291, but as to whether it was both exciting and interesting? Certainly was.

Postscript 19th June A win by the underdogs, Pakistan, who having lost to India by 150+ runs in a group match got to the final and reversed the outcome. An epic performance by them even if there weren’t any particularly epic matches taking the tournament as a whole.

A 1000 more runs were scored than in 2013, approaching half of all runs scored came in boundaries; the average  score of those batting first  up from around 230ish to 270ish. As to the entertainment it produced, pictures for the TV with the ball heading into the crowd, although the pressures when a team batting are not  making the runs they were expecting to seems to have help  produce some very one-sided matches as well.

The Kings of Summer by Duncan Hamilton

This book is a celebration of the best of county cricket and the author does a fine job of narrating his readership through the epic finale at Lords at the end of last season.  Having attended on three days, it was a welcome reminder.

Three points : I He seems to have had a rather variable relationship with Lords as a place to watch cricket. Thirty years ago when bacon and egg tie were high royalty, certainly some staff knew how to (un-)welcome non-members; but now from ticket office, through the Grace Gates to those at the tea-urn they seem as polite and friendly as a great many. The criticism of Lords as home of cricket seemed a bit misplaced.

II In reaching into the past for comparisons to last year he references Hampshire, who ‘astonishingly’ beat Gloucestershire on the last day at Bristol in 1977.  Their openers then were Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge (both of whom made scores in the nineties in the match) and of whom it could reasonably be asked has there been a stronger pairing? Being fortunate enough to have seen the last day, it was pretty obvious that Hampshire were going to win from the mid-point of the innings on.

III What that game did have in common was that a county that  had not previously won the Championship entered the final day with a fair chance, but ended it disappointed.  There is an inconvenient question about the declaration last year which is under what circumstances, if any, were Somerset going to win? In other words when does a contrived finish become a fixed one; hopefully someone keeps an eye on the influence of betting patterns in order that others can write and appreciate Cardus.

Ordinary spectators with ordinary pockets paid a £80 for a ticket  for Test cricket at Lords last summer, £5 for the finale of the domestic season.  Perhaps the county game just needs a bit more care and attention and hopefully this fine  book will help it get it.

Hampshire in the Arlott Era: Other Photos

Gordon Greenidge at Portsmouth, did anyone hit a cricket ball harder then?
Richard Gilliat, a successful Hampshire captain, also Portsmouth.
Pavilion at Northlands Road, Southampton.
Barry Richards at Leicester
Hampshire playing Kent, Bournemouth

What is striking is the number of Hall of Fame cricketers:  Geoff Boycott, Gordon Greenidge,  Barry Richards, Viv Richards, Andy Roberts and Derek Underwood.

 

 

County Cricketers in 2017

Scyld Berry in his book Cricket The Game of Life points to the importance of having attended a fee-paying school, or having a close relative who has played cricket at a high level, or having been born in Lancashire or Yorkshire to the chances of having played Test cricket for England. Those that have one or more of these advantages are not an especially large subset of the population, and as he says ‘the waste has been enormous’, at least looked at from a cricketing point of view.

With this in mind taking a look at the 18 FCC squads this year a majority of the 432 players are either from overseas or educated at independent schools. Players educated in state schools are now some 41% of the total, a figure that appears to have declined  since 2013 when some research undertaken by the Chance to Shine charity and published in The Independent found a figure of 50%.

Whether this is an indication of a downward trend that has further to run is moot. The establishment of Chance to Shine in 2005 is associated with the stat of state schools playing cricket having declined to 1 in 10, the average age of players now is around 27 meaning that many would have begun playing in school around the turn of the century, if not before,  so it could be. A bit more cheerfully of those who appeared in the Championship games last month just over a half were English and state school educated.

62 of the 321 England qualified players have a relative who played FCC, a figure that rises to 114 if minor county, 2nd XI and league players are included.  Cricket, a relatively technical game, seen by some as an acquired taste and family members to share an interest a help.

Lancashire or Yorkshire born players count 59 this year, a bit above the general population shares of the two counties, if the count is of England qualified players, a bit below if it is of all players.  Almost half of them are contracted to the county where they born and educated; across all counties this proportion is around 1 in 4 of those who are English, so some basis still for the county structure to the domestic game.

The number of players born in Cardiff, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton taken together can be counted on two hands. In relation to all things 2020 this may not matter much, or at all, playing wise.  If,  though, the numbers of players coming  through from those cities bears some relation to the wider interest of their generation in those conurbations, then a message about the numbers of potential spectators.

ECB World (Updated)

Information subsequently received from the ECB Board has stated that the seemingly sensitive information about items of budgetary spend mentioned before were in fact purposefully made available to anyone who might want to take an interest. This (still does) surprise me but clearly no adjustment(s) needed!

A copy of the 2016 Annual Return can be downloaded above.

June 2017 A table summarising the ECB finances since 1997 is on the stats page. In the year to January 2017, the ECB lost £37mn, the reserves were halved, the explanation being much larger payouts to the counties.

ECB Transparency

By comparison with Cricket Australia and the ICC the ECB has, strategically at least, over the years been a relatively transparent organisation. On the particular question of what it spends money on, it helpfully produces its preferred way of looking at things in its Annual Review under the heading “How We Spent It”: £48.4mn on the professional game, £30.6mn on England teams, £21mn on community cricket and £14.1mn on admin & support. A total of £114mn in the 2015/6 year.

This gives us the view of the ECB as simply being at the service of the wider game. Other views are available of course, including those that are formed from a look at its financial accounts; what they show is the long-term decline in the distributions to the counties and the grassroots. There is a rather large difference between that which is spend on behalf of others and what is spent by others. Over the years the ECB has arguably become more like a central planner in the cricket economy.

An accidental download occurred in the course of writing this post and as it happens the ECB has entered new realms of transparency in the recent past, transparency max, if not 100% transparency exactly. Whether the accidental download was preceded by an accidental upload or a quite intentional one is another matter, but here a couple of points.

To some extent more transparency is a plus: disclosures that the cost of the CEO’s box in 2015/6 was £120k (enough you would think for some good vintages from the cellars), or that the budget for servicing sponsors was £275k (whatever that might cover) or that public policy and international relations was allocated £271K (the ECB’s foreign office at work presumably) might all help satisfy the curiosity of some and also prompt pertinent questions when the time arises for them.

There are of course also reasonable limits to what should be made public; the revenues from individual sponsorships being one example of something outside those limits and the ECB’s budget for drug testing in the first-class game arguably another. Management accounts are usually for board information and as such confidential for good reasons.

Cricket in England would benefit from a competently managed governing body, given matters transparency at present it would seem to be in an adjustment needed situation.

The ECB and the Sky Millions

The ECB’s decision to end live terrestrial coverage of England in 2005 has been a pain to many of us ever since. Given that it is a decision usually explained in terms of the extra revenues coming into the game, going in search of the upsides the two obvious questions are how much more money has it been and what has it been spent on?

The revenues line is monies from broadcasting, a large part of it, but also from ticketing and other things. If, for much of the time, broadcasting income has driven the trend it also very apparent just how much some World Cup years have generated and the extent to which the game in England is now dependent on cricket globally, particularly the other two members of the big three.

Surprising as it may (or may not) be the ECB’s revenues grew at a quicker rate in the era of free-to-air coverage, a comment on the question of whether cricket exists to make money or whether it should be the other way around. While the numbers, of course, reflect various influences over the years the decision to take England coverage behind a paywall, and keep it that way, has been a mixed blessing financially and can reasonably be seen as something other than a blessing overall.

The lower line in the chart is the distributions from the ECB to the counties (including the minor counties and the MCC) after allowing for charges. When it was set up in 1997 in an era before central contracts and the NCPC at Loughborough University, the ECB distributed approximately 60% of its revenue to the counties and the grassroots as channelled through Chance to Shine. This % spend has dropped by more than a half in the years since.

Michael Atherton writing in The Times last year recalled his experience of playing for England in the Caribbean in the 1990s with a team that was not fully fit, and minus some basic medical supplies, which were then provided by a friend and paid for by a cheque that bounced. The rebalancing towards the centre and the England team that followed was plainly not before its time, although he concluded in the same article that a fundamental change of direction back was needed now.

The general shape of the ‘ECB’s Manhattan’ can be taken as pointing the same way. If football has a problem with rich and arguably too-powerful large clubs, and a rather weak governing body, cricket has seemingly traversed a long way toward the other end of the spectrum. In other words what, fundamentally, is the ECB for and would it matter if the governing body of the game to an ever greater extent became the game?

Current arguments about whether to have two domestic t20 competitions from 2020 raise the acute question of whether this is a way to sustain counties that do not stage international cricket or whether it is more likely to be one step towards their set aside. While 8 team t20 competitions have been big successes in the other two of the big three, they have become so in very different sporting environments. By 2020 it will have been almost a generation since watching England was free and more like two generations since cricket was a mainstay of school sport, during which time football’s dominance has become ever greater and the time formerly known as its close-season has more or less disintegrated.

The better showing by England in Ashes series has arguably been the chief upside of the last decade or so. It would be ironic if the influence of Cricket Australia and the BBL was such now that ECB administrators playing a global game struggle to adapt to domestic conditions. Sometimes it might very well be better to simply stop (over-)managing, and let the game and its players adapt and evolve. The conclusion of last year’s county championship at Lords one case in point; it is a competition which reaches its finale at a time that largely, if not entirely, excludes a young audience, which is unfortunate given that it deserves its chance to shine.

A blog about English cricket