Azeem Rafiq

Watching county cricket next summer seems a long way off, just as well after Azeem Rafiq’s evidence to MPs this week about the Yorkshire dressing room.  Poor stuff, disappointing for those of us who had hoped cricket, of all sports, had players who were essentially above and beyond it.

But not to ignore the fact that Adil Rashid has made the England team, nor the positive comments reported from Ajmal Shahzad about his experiences at the club. Or to deny that Yorkshire’s management tried to prejudge the outcome of their investigations, making it harder for outsiders to appreciate the extent of the problem.

So the case for the defence of Yorkshire, the institution, such as it might be has gone unheard. It was  pointed out that something like 30% of recreational cricketers  have a south Asian heritage, the  pros at Yorkshire, in county cricket generally, much less, under 5%.

Yet fair to add that a career as a pro can be a precarious one: giving it a go, taking time out from studies and/or other careers a risk, a sacrifice if  things don’t work out and to state the obvious the better the alternatives the less appealing it be.

FWIW personal experience of mainly BAME students over the years  in London also pursuing (semi-)pro sporting careers divided largely along ethnic lines: 5th/6th/7th tier footballers, mainly black and mixed ethnicity, 2nd/3rd tier rugby players, smaller numbers, white. Potential cricketers  going for county trials…more actual Olympians in boats.

So time outs to give a football career a go; a big magnet, some general understanding of those who want to leave no regrets. Cricket, niche, more reluctance; which points to the numbers of cricket pros from an Asian background squeezed by problems in the game and also by the openings in the  world beyond.

Lord’s Through Time

Deep into what used to be Cross Arrows time the Bob Willis Trophy this week, its purpose not very clear and its timing a bit odd, but a trip to Lord’s with the feel of spectating now quasi-normal  something to be thankful for. In the decade or so since Anthony Meredith’s readable appreciation of the ground was published, a new Warner Stand, and now the redeveloped  Nursery End, which with the ground in empty cathedral mode, came as a pleasant surprise.

Lower level seating is a lot more  open looking towards the pavilion, a 270 degree panorama with the naked eye, which may not be the first thing you think of looking the other way given the height of the top tier. Personal taste obviously, but the pavilion remains the most aesthetically pleasing backdrop to watching at Lord’s, a 19th century structure, something from another world in a ground largely rebuilt since the 1980s .

It is also more open behind at the Nursery End with demolition of an older bar adjacent to the  shop; a more expansive feel and a contrast to the tighter spaces behind the pavilion. Prominent, not this day but this summer the Veuve Cliquot kiosk, offering spectators a bubbly Jeroboam (£)370. Quite why the 300cl bottle should be more than twice the price of one with half its contents something of a minor mystery, maybe it’s an in-joke among patrons.

But a part of this world whatever the reason for it,  and one pointer of course, as to how much cricket’s audience, in London particularly, splits between those for whom a day at the Test, and those who go at other times. In 1980 watching Graham Gooch make his first century for England was within the budget of this then one student, standing in front of the Tavern. In 2022 if not match day staff, cricket for those on a limited budget is largely white ball games, conceivably the Oval Test 5th day, if there is one.

Not great and the direction of travel on this one has, if anything, unfortunately quickened in recent seasons, regular ticket prices for Tests at the Home of Cricket a magnum, up from a bottle in the middle of the last decade. Which for red-ball followers leaves the County Championship, still most of the cricket scheduled at Lord’s, tickets, as elsewhere, not expensive. With streaming and a capacity for good fourth-day finishes it has a better story to tell than some  give it credit for.

The Blast

The ECB’s shiny new engine has had its first outing to great fanfare, much expense, approval from passengers. It’s been a visibly good summer for Sir Topham. As for that old favourite BranchLineBlast, parked in the siding and feeling rather neglected, a big weekend engagement this month, although passengers seemingly rather wonder about its future.

Long ago in the days of nationalisation  Sunday League services maintained a regular schedule, One-Day Cup matches were played  on a Saturday. 172 weekend fixtures over the summer at times, in places, to attract newcomers, with weekdays mainly the long format for established custom. Not everything was better in the 1970s,  a lot of things weren’t, although as a way to run a railroad…….

Winds of change came, suits replaced secretaries and county T20 cricket, looking not unlike the second half of many Sunday League games, started in 2003. Aimed more at after work crowds,  the funky innovations of the noughties included spectators in bath tubs. 10 of the 48 games in the first year were played on a Saturday or Sunday.

Station managers  saw the £ signs, the competition greatly expanded in terms of the numbers of games.  By 2019 the figure that was 10 had risen, but only to 35,  25 days for the RLC, a total of 60. While The Blast was unfortunate that cricket FTA paid for by adverts was a loss-maker, broadly the game invested in buildings before a new generation of supporters.

Which raises the question  of whether it will  now invest in encouraging more families, under 10s to come along?  Those that have been on The 100 might find that actually BranchLineBlast has really quite similar carriages, gets up to speed pretty well and runs on the main lines.

It would have be said that in 2021 there was no obvious sign of it, rather a fixture calendar that started in early April, had almost no domestic white-ball cricket before the middle of June, then scheduled fewer Sat/Sun dates than in 2019. From which the question how long  will passengers  be waiting on the platform next season; as for those who do the administration for one engine, and give directions to the other, a pointed question as to which service, if either, will they be sending?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

99.94

If a  time machine took you back to watch a Don Bradman innings how many would you expect him to score? 99.94, meaning a 100? Suggestions that batting averages at times are over relied on are not new,  but this one is iconic, a number to end arguments: ‘The Don’s’ average is almost 40 more than George Headley, Graeme Pollock, Steve Smith…..

Yet in his 80 Test innings  he made 100+/-50 in just 24 of them and if batting careers are made from a relatively small number of really good days, a larger number that aren’t, what of such an elevated average as his? It’s a big compromise but it gets the right man as the greatest?

Bradman  made big hundreds, 150+, 18 times; more than Headley, Pollock and (to date) Smith together in less than half their combined number of innings. His 334 at Headingley in 1930, his 13th innings, took his career average to 99.67 from which there were not later big variations.

This suggests consistency, yet one run short of making three 300’s,  one four short of another .06.  the average variation of his scores was more than 70; the experience of those watching a  ‘day at the Test’ different day-to day. This applies to others of course,  Steve Smith, with a current average of 61.8 has made scores within +/- 30 around one innings in three, something similar or more so, with Graeme Pollock and George Headley.

Bradman b Hollies 4 at the Oval? If one ball in cricket history could be changed his last would surely have made for a happier ending, although from the standpoint of 2021 99.94 has its charm,  mystique as well maybe. It’s a marker of DGB’s greatness of course, but not very far away from this statistic are also markers for how much the experience of watching is personal;  that greatness is in the eye of the beholder, a matter of  aesthetic pleasure as well as the numbers.

Given the chance to see one innings from the past, personally DGB would be one contender but so would several others, including George Headley, ‘the black Bradman’, who from accounts of his time was arguably more stylish and Graeme Pollock, and the ‘golden hour’ of South African cricket complete with a century from Barry Richards at the other end.

 

 

County Directors

After Exeter City Supporters’ Trust became the owners of their football club I was a visitor to one of their board meetings. One of the directors was a former paratrooper; a supporter since boyhood who at the time had been repairing much of a then crumbling ground. Not remotely distracted management speak, he had the sort of energy that should be on club boards; diversity 2004: elections to anchor those making decisions and the influence of those that do.

As to county cricket and its diversity  now,  30 women directors, about 1 in 6 of the total, just two county boards/committees  all male (Kent, Northants ). The count of BAME directors 18+ maybe, changing times and some progress in the last decade, albeit  more by nomination than member election in some parts.  But as to the influence of those that do,  it seems doubtful that there are any nurses, or van delivery drivers,  among the 180 odd directors of the county game.

Cricket a game within a business and managed by the managerial classes then? The 100 team boards are largely made up of county chief executives together with a small  number of others that include an even smaller number of newcomers. While the counties take a payout, strategically The Blast  and The 100 are substitutes, competitors, rivals and  how those directors (or staff) acting in the best interests of one, will also be acting in the best interests of the other, is a mystery.

For members who put red-ball cricket first,  CC/ODC/T20 as  their order of priorities, 15 of the counties are membership bodies and  members electing other members still looks as a good a bet as any.  The question of what people stand for;  from personal experience credit those at the ‘People’s Home of Cricket’, the Oval, who stood for election this year and expressed an opinion, with some help from twitter what’s supposed to work still did in 2021.

Numbers here

 

Remarkable Cricket Grounds by Brian Levison

This  fine collection of  photographs caters to very different tastes in what is sometimes called ‘greater cricket’. For those who see the  good in what the Victorians left behind there are some iconic views of domestic  grounds: Canterbury, Cheltenham, the cathedral view from New Road.  Old world charm exported also photographs well at the City Oval, Pietermaritzburg, SA,  a ground modelled on Queens Park, Chesterfield complete with the oak tree from the 1880s on its playing area.

The  MCG has a cricket history that goes back to the mid-19c and is one of the world’s great sporting venues, but as a modern stadia, capacity 100,000, for spectators the action looks a bit distant, implied as often as it is seen maybe. Other angles might present it in a more sympathetic light, but seen through English eyes one up for the different scale of TMGs in England.

The redeveloped Old Trafford with its futuristic design gets a six-page spread as does Lord’s, and The Oval.  All three  have been substantially rebuilt in recent decades and the two in London have largely retained their ambience in grounds that have  been enhanced.  As for the controversial Point facility at  OT,  Winston Churchill once used the word remarkable when being  diplomatic about his portrait by Graham Sutherland,  which he disliked ( ‘a remarkable example of modern art’).  Some might think The Point a remarkable corporate facility with Churchillian sentiment, but whether to taste or not it is prominent, if not dominant; more so maybe than when the media centre at Lord’s was new and controversial.

The influence of common standards for spectator ‘matchday experiences’  is striking in the images of the modern stadia in Dubai, Durban, the Gabba. The Ageas Bowl fits into this category in its own way, but the pavilion with its tented roof is  to be sure easy on the eye.  Will it, aesthetically speaking,  go the distance, a structure for the 21st century?  By comparison with, say, the justifiably still much appreciated Edwardian pavilion at Bourneville?  Maybe it  will.

 

Remarkable playing conditions, those way off the norm, appear with organised beach cricket in Fife,  cricket-on-ice at St Mortitz  and on a one -in-seven slope, Bilsdale Yorkshire. Atmospherically, Maifield, Berlin, adjacent to the 1936 Olympic Stadium, seems an empty if not eerie place for a game of cricket but there also some wonderful images set against mountains and other imposing natural backdrops.

78 grounds are included, a number to defy classification and social media timelines from Facebook groups and similar cover much the same terrain. It’s a coffee-table book, but a reminder to appreciate just how much  the game’s settings vary, a good reminder to have in covid times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A West Indian Legacy

Gordon Greenidge at the United Services Ground, Portsmouth, after making a brilliant Sunday League hundred back in the 1970s; memory fades, but he may well have been the only black man at Burnaby Road that afternoon.  When Hampshire played games in  Southampton then they had  a (one) black supporter, regarded as a socially important person by some, thanks largely to the chair of CAMRA  at the time who dispensed communism during afternoons at cricket.

The era of WI dominance that ran until the mid-90s is largely remembered now by World Cup Finals and brutal Test encounters; Fire in Babylon, WI cricketers doing wins a help to WI folks in England. But not to neglect the impact on domestic cricket and on the attitudes of those who follow(ed) it.

County Appearances of the 1975, 2019  World Cup Winners

West Indies 1975 England 2019
Roy Fredericks (Gla 71-3) 90 Jason Roy (Surrey 08-) 271
Gordon Greenidge (Hants 70-87) 549 Jonny Bairstow (Yorks 09-) 200
Alvin Kallicharran (Warwks 71-90) 574 Joe Root (Yorks 09-) 108
Rohan Kanhai (Warwks 68-77) 315 Eoin Morgan (Middx 05-) 267
Clive Lloyd  (Lancs 68-86) 492 Ben Stokes (Dur 09-) 175
Viv Richards (Som 74-86, Gla 90-3) 519                Jos Buttler (Som 09-13, Lancs 14-) 215
Keith Boyce                          (Essex 66-77) 360 Chris Woakes (Warwks 06-) 230
Bernard Julien                   (Kent 70-77) 163 Liam Plunkett (Dur 03-12, Yorks 13-18, Surrey 19-) 345
Deryck Murray   (Notts 66-9, Warwks 72-5) 252 Jofra Archer (Sussex 16-) 77
Vanburn Holder              (Worcs 68-80) 345 Abdul Rashid (Yorks 06-) 350
Andy Roberts                  (Hants 74-8, Leics 81-4) 208 Mark Wood (Dur 11-) 73
Total Number 3867 2311

Data sourced from Cricket Archive.

Seven of the 1975 WIs played for what were then non-TMG counties, at a point in the history of cricket when List A games were reviving it  WIs were doing a lot of the reviving. Exciting cricketers, liked by crowds at matches that were played at many local outgrounds, those at Portsmouth above for instance, saw a game between Hants and Yorks and  also a  pre-run of sorts to the 1979 WC Final.

The relaxing of the rules on overseas players  gave more WI  experience of English conditions, a lot of it by today’s standards, even allowing for the fact that the England players’ numbers are from  careers-in-progress.  At a time when first-class cricket in the Caribbean, the Shell Shield, involved a total of 10 matches a season, the experience a help in establishing their dominance in Tests against England, if not elsewhere; so an exchange of sorts at work as well. Much the same point could be made about limited-overs cricket: the Gillette Cup in the WI started in 1975/6.

WSC, rebel tours altered the financial incentives but it is very striking how loyal the 1975 team were to their  counties.  Most of the  players who went on to play for the WI in the years between 76-95 also played county cricket,  including all of the quartets of fast bowlers, of whom no-one with a  longer span than Courtney Walsh and no-one with more appearances than Malcolm Marshall.

In 1975 black people in the eyeline of this one spectator were some of the game’s greats, in 2019, at the Oval, they were gate staff.  The game has the support it does in England because of WI cricket past, no question, so what then to make of the sentiment that something is missing now?  In Cricket:The Game of Life  Scyld Berry comments that  ‘We should not wonder at West Indian cricket becoming so moderate, but at it once having been so magnificent’.

It’s  an understandable point view to take, particularly given its setting in an historical context. As to the involvement of black folks in cricket in England now, playing football was a comment heard more than once last year; it is, after all, where the money and the glory is, the game a lingua franca.  But it leaves an awkward question for cricket, as to whether its relative decline among those with a Caribbean heritage is, socially, a problem, or just a sign of progress?

 

 

 

Photos from the 1970s

In  2019 Brian Carpenter who writes a piece on cricket blogs for Wisden mentioned  this one, pointing the way to some photos I snapped in 1978.  Quite a number of them are on this site somewhere, or on twitter, but if you have come this way for a look, ‘a best of the bunch’ are collated here.

Many thanks go to Gary Sanford, a fellow sightscreen committee member from long ago, for his photo of the Dean Park pavilion above  and also to the ‘unknown developer’.  In the 1970s when rolls of film were sent off to be developed, it was not too difficult to imagine that some of those doing the processing also followed the game,  certainly in a couple of cases an enlargement returned was an improvement on the original.

Hove 19th June One of the iconic settings for county cricket then, and now, and happily still ‘a ground’.  Turn left out of Hove station on a Monday morning  and where better to start an extended cricket-watching holiday?

 

The Oval 16th July A Sunday League game: two ICC Greats, Barry Richards and Andy Roberts,  John Edrich, together with David Turner.  Umpire Tom Spencer, who three years earlier had officiated in the first World Cup,

Northlands Road, Southampton 5th August A relaxed-looking Geoffrey Boycott in front of a full pavilion,  hosting a good many tykes on tour. Photograph taken from 40-50 yards away, the awareness of its subject having prompted his response. 

Clarence Park, Weston 10th August A shaft of sun light giving a terrestrial-celestial aspect to the cricket; some of the  other snaps of Viv Richards taken that afternoon  show just what a colossus he was and a dominating presence in this one certainly.

Dean Park, Bournemouth  23rd August Dennis Amiss batting for Warwickshire, a pioneer user of helmets that summer when their use was ‘controversial’.  A man apart rather because of it, generations of cricketers since have had reason to be grateful to him.

Northlands Road,  27th August Gordon Greenidge playing against Kent in a SL game. The Hants Handbook for the year records his frustration with only making  51, a century in each innings followed when the Championship fixture resumed the following day.

Dean Park 3rd September Richard Gilliat with the JPL trophy. A happy ending for a batsman who walked, and who had reached the the end of his playing career that year.  Not everything about cricket celebrations in the 1970s was better then, but they did connect players with ‘ordinary’ supporters, and hopefully some in the picture still follow the game. For those who do QoS,  is the partly obscured figure behind ‘RMC’ a  recognisable one?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cricketscapes by Andrew Hignell

Andrew Hignell argues that in an urban world cricket in England should move from its county-based structure to a city-based one, that this change is long overdue, that the game needs to connect with the places  people identify with in 2020.  An intellectual justification for The 100, or a competition something like it, wasn’t particularly sought in buying this publication from the ACS but it wasn’t any less of a good read for that, so, how persuasive is he?

The first ‘proper’ County Championship is dated to 1895; contested by 14, eight of whom played at one ground. From this for much of the 20th century the game, its geography, expanded to the point that by 1963 the then 17  counties played 32 3-day  fixtures, most of them  staged  on outgrounds. One-day cricket changed some of the dots on the map, over the years the Sunday League greatly increased their number, and by the time this one blogger had snapped Sir Viv Richards playing at Weston in 1978,  the number of grounds used that summer was as it had been in 1963, 72 in all.  Overall an era for the game when its geographic reach gave justification for its county structure:  boundaries that accommodated civic rivalries, rival supporters from other sports.

Andrew Hignell then traces the geographic concentration of games in the decades since,  wickets prepared to ECB standards and facilities developed to accommodate business interests at county grounds, the importance of  gate revenues and member subs declining. A game heading upmarket.  The open question that this leaves is the extent to which county supporters now are folks living in the urban areas of those grounds. Are the crowds at T20 games locals,  or not,  just a more mobile generation than when the Sunday League came to their (grand)parents?

The argument in Cricketscapes drives this to a logical conclusion if it is, or you think it is, mainly the first, then name domestic cricket  accordingly, Canterbury v Taunton and so on. To the question what’s in a name Andrew Hignell suggests  rather a lot, and sitting above Brighton, Southampton and the others in his future are the eight city-based ECB teams with ‘names that can be seen on road signs plus an urban identity’: Welsh Fire, Birmingham Phoenix, Manchester Originals, Northern Superchargers, Trent Rockets, London Spirit, Oval Invincibles and Southern Brave.

This all struck this one reader as exchanging one set of compromises, county names, for another; teams in the The 100 with urban names are not a majority and as the author points out forcefully in another context in one the association for the non-cricket going public is very much that of a tube station.  As for how much names matter,  for those heading to the cricket for a social occasion a moot point; although not especially surprising was the comment from Surrey’s CEO  that a quarter of the early ticket sales for The 100 were at the Oval, bought by those from much the same demographic as T20 goers.

The 100 is seemingly set to mean a big increase in the amount of white ball cricket at eight grounds, from 50+ to around 90 games, or if counting those played ‘between the eight’ from 20+ to around 60.  Financially it’s risky, something that Cricketscapes seems to skirt around, suggesting rather that the game can ease its way into a brave new world, county rebrands or not. He is though surely right to point to the role of social media connecting folks to the game in its various forms, and may be the export market for The 100 will justify its existence, or turn it into a hit, and help fund domestic cricket.

But maybe not, the financial expansion of the game in the ECB era has  been a bumpy experience: Channel 4’s departure from covering England, they were losing money on it, lead to 14 years behind a paywall, the stresses of expanding TMGs from 6 to 9 also problematic; a game left with an ageing support base and experiencing over-supply problems.

So is The 100 going to be just more over-supply? Some differences of opinion about it may be partly down to different world views: in the decades since Viv Richards was playing on public parks, economically the pendulum has swung a long way from those at the bottom, in the middle towards those at the top and imo a push back would not be before time. But this is not really to doubt the risk those pushing with the pendulum in cricket are taking.

Cricketscapes, part of the Cricket Witness series from the ACS, is a glossy, which was not expected. It has 20+ (black and white) photos from the game’s past, of interest although social media has raised the standard  when it comes to cricket’s landscapes. What it gave this reader was a thoughtful, alternative point of view, something which can be hard to find on social media, and for that, credit to its author.

 

Test of Character by Andy Murtagh

Born in Superlative, blessed with stand out looks and given a moral compass, yet  Andy Murtagh’s warm-hearted biography of John Holder is also well-titled for a man who left Barbados for an English winter with no coat, just might have had his capacity to bowl fast coached out of him, and later, as Test Match umpire, declined a bribe and found that an attitude born out of straightforward honesty was an an attitude that didn’t fit.

John Holder has a first-class hat-trick to his name, took 13 wickets in a Championship match and stories from his playing days are fondly recalled by Andy Murtagh. The liking he feels towards his subject is very clear, although this part of the book also aches rather with the playing career that might have been.  As team-mate  Richard Lewis points out the key to bowling is the ability to repeat an action, from which rhythm and confidence, and while John Holder was seriously quick, attempts to rectify a problem with bowling no balls by changing his action from chest to side on proved problematic.

He left the Hants staff in 1972 without getting his county cap, but having been a presence in helping a young Gordon Greenidge mature, whose career at Southampton at one point survived by one vote. 15 years later with his playing career coming towards its end, John Holder was umpiring  him on the county circuit, his career as an official on the rise.  Promotion to Tests followed, England versus Sri Lanka in 1988  then Australia in 1989, a career that was going well until the end of the  series against the West Indies in 1991, the farewell of Viv Richards at The Oval. It turned out to be his last Test for a decade.

As to why, umpire Holder pointing out, reporting, ball tampering by England  unwelcome with an upcoming series against Pakistan is the context given. It is plausible enough as an explanation; reporting transgressions may, of course, have been unwelcome at other times as well, suggestive that  some of his colleagues  would simply have turned a blind eye as necessary.

And the experience of prejudice in his career? Episodes outside the game certainly,  also behind the decision-making that left him (very) disappointed after just doing his duty? Test of Character reasonably enough given the time horizon  does not try to probe the opaque processes of long ago, or the character, the mental suppleness, of those making the decisions, but it may have been a factor. Mistakes made with LB decisions in some games are given fair airing in the book, the explanation for him being dropped as a Test umpire seemingly not that, which leaves a man who was just ‘a bit too honest’.

More cheerfully there is fair recognition  that cricket gave black West Indians of his generation openings, three team-mates at Southampton at the start of the 1971 season, in an era when cricket was treated more as a game, and those involved felt that they were on to something that was a lot better than ‘real work’. A career in his case that lasted more than 40  years; an informed man about the laws of cricket, an educator, his ‘You Are the Umpire’ with Paul Trevillion, a success.  An attempt  to bribe him in Sharjah before an ODI fixture was recalled with something like disdain in interviews that have appeared on YouTube.

John Holder first appeared for Hants 2nds against Gloucester at Dean Park  in 1965, the scorecard a prompt about the large part luck plays in careers. Both Mike Procter and Barry Richards played for the visitors;  as did fellow umpire to be David Shepherd, ‘Shep’, remembered for hopping on to one leg when the score was 111, and for whom an MBE for services to cricket. And John Holder, for services to careers made with a good conscience? If presented with a re-run hopefully he would do it again.

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