All posts by StephenFH

Sustainable County Cricket

Somewhere the other side of  coronavirus, hopefully, there is a  English cricket season of sorts, however much truncated. Games  behind closed doors in June, streamed, with BBC commentary?  It would be good for the mental health of its listeners if there were. Matches with at least some spectators in attendance by  August? Maybe; but not to doubt that 2020 may turn out to be a season that wasn’t.

As to the capacity of cricket to survive a fallow year financially, the big numbers in the game, ECB revenues,  mainly broadcasting,  and those of the 18 first-class counties came to around £260mn in 2018 and were likely to have been well to the north of £300mn after last summer, which should have left some surpluses. The  ECB’s new TV contract from this year is ‘significantly’ bigger than before, and with help one way and another  from government, it conceivably might be  enough to get the domestic game to 2021.

Quite how long Sky will actually (be able to) fund cricket while showing repeats remains to be seen. But for those of us thinking a future with 18 first-class counties is a marker for the game’s presence, the sustainability  question, if anything, is likely to become more acute. Why struggle to keep a structure intact, critics will ask, if something is not really viable in any event?

Surprisingly maybe county cricket in the time of Sky has, in fact, returned a small profit. The impression from annual snapshots of its financial health in the past has sometimes been rather different, sometimes with reason, but cumulate the 18 financial bottom lines over the years and what you get is shown below.

Legacies and surpluses from ground developments are certainly part of what has sustained the smaller counties, and without the success story of Somerset the trend is close to break-even. Some, of course, have had better experiences than others, but the aggregated line for the non-TMGs, broadly, does not hide great variations within.

Bumpy times at the TMGs; the costs of major ground rebuilds, and expansion to nine when six meant one often missing out problematic, as might reasonably have  been expected. To an extent  this has now been rectified, a major debt write-off (Cardiff), a seriously big capital injection from the  local authority (Southampton/Eastleigh)  and a re-financing (Chester-le-Street) having steadied things.

But a clear and obvious message about speculative excess, the financially unsustainable; from which cue and queue the scepticism over The 100. If the game is about to borrow more against its future, repayment horizons that extend past the current risky TV contract will help. What cricket doesn’t need is more bumpy times of its own making to follow the current uncertain ones.

Charts for the individual counties and other financial details are on the stats page.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Trophies and a Funeral by Stuart Rayner

When Durham were relegated at the end of the 2016 season with penalties from the ECB that seemed harsh, the sympathies of many, including those a distance from Chester-le-Street, were with the county, the game’s governing body once again cast as the villan of the piece. For anyone interested in the background, curious enough for a second take, Stuart Rayner’s book, while mainly about matters on-field, also gives a good airing to the decision-making behind the scenes and the risks that were taken.

He doesn’t shy from pointing out that Durham’s financial difficulties  were, at least partly, self-inflicted. Minor county in 1991 to Test match venue in a little over a decade  seems quick, excessively so, particularly given that it understandably took several years for the county to find its feet playing first-class cricket.  What happened to simply developing a good county ground?

‘Ambition is the centrepiece of sporting dreams  and all of us cricket folks are dreamers in one way or another’, Mark Nicholas is quoted as saying in Durham’s wake. The mission to give local kids opportunities to play first-class cricket, Paul Collingwood was 15 when the county became one of 18, was and is  eminently laudable. The spirit of Durham so to speak, and a strapline of ‘international cricket, locally sourced’  to sell tickets sounds good.

But major new sporting venues can be long-term projects; the Rose Bowl  by comparison took around 25 years to develop from idea to hosting its first Test. Time enough for circumstances,  the world,  to change and for the dreams of cricketing folk to collide. On the horizon here the 18 counties (“centres of excellence”)  concentrated on their main grounds and retreated from playing elsewhere. England, the ECB, essentially did the opposite, with three new ‘international outgrounds’  developed to the point of being able to  stage Test matches.

With no more than 6 venues out of 9 hosting a Test, and with the importance of staging an Ashes fixture to balance years when there wasn’t, a recipe was made for financial problems. By comparison with the other TMG’s, Durham didn’t borrow particularly big, they ‘simply’ couldn’t keep up their interest payments. Breaching the salary cap was one sign of the pressures in the years when trophies were won and financial  losses  made; although it would be fair to add that the county’s revenues, whilst growing with the development of the Riverside,  also became increasingly variable over the years from first ODI in 2000 v WI when 15,000 came, to the Sri Lanka Test attended by  just 2759  in 2016.

But no question that some of the difficulties can be traced to problems at the centre being passed on to the counties, chief among them the ECB being able to maintain its own income from 2006 onwards, which came at the cost of  trading away FTA coverage of England. As to the future, Stuart’s Rayner’s book concludes with the development of younger players as the route for Durham, a return to where the county came in, evolve, the need for financial sanity obvious messages. Messages for others as well, given the new TV contract and the variability of revenues coming the way of the game.

 

Numbers on the background on the Stats page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ECB Directors & The 100

The boardroom practice of  existing directors nominating new ones is open to the criticism that it can create a  merry-go-round  for those involved,  detached from the people in whose interests they are supposed to direct. In the case of the ECB,  county reps  (39 of its 41 members are counties) have  been done away with in the name of board independence, being able to make decisions for ‘the good of the game’.

A count of directorships held by those  on its board shows that Scott Smith, the CFO, leads the way with a total of 10. Apart from his involvement with the National Archery Society he is  the  director of

London Spirt (The Hundred) Ltd Welsh Fire (The Hundred) Ltd
Oval Invincibles Ltd Manchester Originals Ltd
Trent Rockets Ltd Southern Brave Ltd
Birmingham Phoenix Ltd Northern Superchargers Ltd

As independent as that;  if it looks like a rather strange arrangement that is because it is and comes from the ECB being the owner as well as the governing body for The 100. Common or some form of collective ownership has its advantages and is one thing, a common owner of two teams competing in professional sport is another thing entirely.  It is prohibited in football in this country, point number one in the FA’s Owners and Directors Test (of those who are ‘fit and proper’). In rugby it has in the past also been blocked by the RFU.

The rule is there to help keep things honest, promote sporting integrity. Roman Abramovich (reportedly) might have taken over Tottenham Hotspur FC, did take over Chelsea but is prevented from owning both clubs: if he did would the matches between the two  actually be straight and seen as such? Some individuals might find themselves unusually well-placed to profit in ‘prediction markets’ in the event of confusion over the issue.

So does the ECB have a future giving space to a sporting Rick’s  in which its compliance staff will be ‘shocked, shocked to find  that gambling has been going on’? As a matter of external scrutiny when it gave evidence to parliamentarians last year the ownership of The 100 was barely mentioned. The 8 teams were mistakenly referred to as franchises by one MP,  an understandable confusion maybe given the distance that many personally feel from the way the game is run. Two days later the ECB put the detail of London Spirit Ltd and the others on the public record.

Something to keep quiet about? The ECB has set itself up as the sole shareholder of the 8  companies  and it wouldn’t be very surprising if they were turned into franchises at some point, if The 100 lasts. In the last decade cricket’s governing body used to describe itself as a conduit for the game as a whole; on the evidence given to the DCMS it seems ever more like Sky’s conduit, with big decisions about the financing and integrity of the game taken by a very small number of individuals and in whose interest is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DCMS, the ECB and Statistics

Before the  statistics it should be mentioned that the ECB does have some good things to say in 2019, the World Cup Final in the eyes of many has been the sporting highlight of the year. When its board members gave  evidence to a DCMS inquiry into the game’s future last month there was talk of  growing the game in schools, and women’s cricket was prominent in a way that it wasn’t during the last inquiry held after the ending of FTA coverage in 2005.

But on to The 100 and the ECB’s intention to attract newcomers to watch games. As for the evidence it gave on those who watch now: an average age of 50, “a 77% male bias and a 82% bias towards White British”; although of what these figures were based on, no mention. By comparison, in the world beyond the people of England and Wales were 51% female, 81% white Brits at the last census.

Nationally, the (median) average age is around 40, cricket spectators are older, but the game is not alone in having a mature audience; different numbers, but much the same sentiment in relation to football in the relatively recent past. This is not particularly surprising given the way much sport is funded, paywall TV, and the big economic changes  which have helped more mature types keep paying and keep interested. But no questioning that the game has a generational problem, arguably its biggest problem.

As to the disproportionate number of men who watch the game: if this, as it reasonably might be, is taken as evidence for wanting to encourage more women to attend, why would the basically proportionate number of white Brits be referred to in terms of bias?  Cricket, on the ECB’s own evidence, has been doing ok overall in attracting a diverse audience; three formats of the game enough.

So what’s the problem? A governing body with a CEO who simply doesn’t understand or who doesn’t (want to) believe his own statistics? To be sure England and Wales is changing in the direction of greater numbers of those who make-up the minorities. It could be fairly pointed out that the last census numbers (2011) are rather old,  the question now being how much change has there been since.

But also to the point here is just how different  the ‘cricketing heritages’ are of the minorities in a global world: just how much difference in interest in the game of cricket there is likely to be between, say, those who were born in the People’s Republic of China living here now, those with an Indian heritage and  those who have migrated from Poland more recently.

But  not much doubting the intention of those at the ECB who see the The 100 as “an awfully big opportunity…..to get  diverse and urban communities turning up in their droves”. Re-profiling the ethnicity of the game’s spectators may not get very far: The 100 may simply attract those who watch or would have watched the Blast, the stats that the ECB gave to the DCMS select committee could in any case be (many) a mile off.  But given what they say they know, it is an adverse comment on the governing body of a national game that they would try in the first place.

Some background detail on the stats page.

 

 

 

County Umpires

It was a straight one pitching outside the line that did not deviate is a chirp on  leg-before decisions heard every now and again during the cricket season. In the case of  Scott lbw Mahmood 26 during the Middlesex v Lancashire ODC game last summer,  ironic laughter could be heard in the Sky commentary box as viewers were shown the replay, before some understanding, faux or otherwise,  was expressed for the lot of the umpire. Two months later to a cheering nation England’s cricketers were given 6 at the end of the World Cup Final, when, as we now know, it should have been 5.

If a certain ambivalence re wanting the right decision is normal among supporters,  at the umpiring end with the benefit of the doubt given to the batsmen, out decisions when not still seem to be viewed more critically. For the fielding team then the incentive to appeal, loud and appearing sure, is not lessened any by a default of sorts against them.

As a first-up general impression county cricket seems fairly respectful of its umpires and their decisions; at least during the 15 days this one spectator watched, still so. But no question that the players’ body language, facial expressions come with  varying degrees of subtlety and, if much of it is aimed at each other, there are occasions when things get a bit raw.

Whether for example, Sam Curran  in the Surrey-Kent game below had just feathered one and is standing his ground, getting away with it, or the appealing collective for Kent, who were getting on top in the game, were just frustrated from overdoing it, later in the over the non-striker Dean Elgar was given out lb in what was a rather uncomfortable looking adjudication.

Uncomfortable because the umpire  was, in fact, right both times, even if the fielders had  convinced themselves otherwise, managing the energies, perceptions not easy? Or that he was in fact mistaken twice, or just the first time or just the second,  perceptions to manage just depending? Given the frequency with which players appeal, it is not news that some overs  go better than others for the umpires and while doubtless there were  handshakes at the end of the match, as there are, the game is not rugby, at least not exactly.

So if cricket has its ‘Unbelievable Jeff’ moments who would be an umpire? Over on planet football an ex-Premier League referee giving a presentation  in pre-VAR days suggested there were those who did it for the good of the game, those who would have been players, being on the  pitch much of the appeal of it, and those with certain liking for dispensing law and order: saints, frustrated pros and nature’s traffic wardens so to speak.

While  umpiring comes with some traffic management it has in the past been  done by former players, as it very much was in 2019:  almost all of the umpiring done by those who had played the county game and about a third of it by those who have played international cricket.

Numbers on the individuals are downloadable on the stats page, but it is striking how much the game is dependent on officials that cover all three formats: umpires Bailey and Saggers below stood in more than 30 fixtures last summer as did 11 of their colleagues and in overall terms umpires tend to umpire more than the players play. In 2019 there was a pool of 33, comparable to the playing staff of a large county: umpires umpiring  numbered over 700 over the course of the season,  players playing for a county considerably less. The day of the specialist umpire may yet follow a game dividing, although not all that much sign of it just yet.

Sceptics  of The 100 have some good reasons to not believe, to which add the layer of additional stress of a 4th competition  on those who adjudicate. ‘They have come to see me bat, not you bowl’  WG Grace is said to have said, a line that has made it to the game’s present; with the chief administrator of the ECB having declared its new competition to already be a success, good luck to those minded to give Ben Stokes out lb first-ball, whether it pitched outside the line, or for that matter whether it clearly didn’t.

August Cricket Week

Hampshire versus Kent, 26th-29th August 1978, Bournemouth. Surrey versus Hampshire 18-21st  August 2019,  The Oval.

When John Arlott retired in 1980 he wrote of his abiding nostalgia for the county cricket circuit which had anchored much of his career, cricketers as members of a travelling circus going round the country in the summer months, the game’s greats on board.  Something from another world now,  but in the summer of 1978 it was a strong  Kent team, that included ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood, that came for the second half of the Bournemouth week. On the point of becoming County Champions they bumped into Gordon  Greenidge  going through a great purple patch:  five centuries and a fifty (in the SL game below) in seven innings; two of them enabling the home side  to win with relative ease, (umpires) Cowley and Jesty at the crease.

 

The photo of Trevor Jesty  from behind looks a bit odd now, although given a camera at just one end  with TV coverage  at the time, not especially then.  In another media age, Radio 2 did hourly sports desks in the afternoon which fed the game’s chatter, with the  second reading of the cricket scoreboard at 7.30; a holy of sorts for some, it was often delivered with a certain gravitas if memory serves.

As for those doing the chatter  players then perambulated around grounds and talked to members and spectators. This blog takes its name from those who watched  from one end of Dean Park in those years: prominent the then chair of CAMRA, real ale and communism,  ‘W.G.’, who having trialled the world of work for a fortnight in the 1950s had  decided against continuing with it, those too young to have made that decision; those that weren’t and hadn’t and one who remembered matches from the 1930s. Easy days spent watching cricket: part sanctuary, part speakers’ corner, and a comment on those with the patience to follow  the  game and the tolerances of each other that watching fostered.

The  Oval in 2019 is  a decent place to take in the pleasures of a Monday morning at the cricket, hearth  from its history and strangely, or maybe not all, the Vauxhall End has its ‘sightscreen committee’, independent-minded  comments and recollections as standard. Perhaps there is a parallel universe somewhere with many sightscreen committees, the game there might be the better for it , but in this one it should be mentioned the ‘People’s Home’ also benefits from its flag-bearers for the county game in the Peter May stand.

 

The course of the Surrey-Hants fixture  was reset  by a big innings of considerable maturity from Ollie Pope, enough to generate interest on the last afternoon despite the fact that, in the end, only 22 wickets fell over four days. The 12 men of Hants (one concussion sub) resisting the 13 of Surrey (two England call-ups) with an innings of promise from Felix Organ  leading their rearguard. As the game reached its conclusion Ben Foakes again showed the lightening speed of his reactions (and anticipation) and credit, of course, to those who field at short-leg

When the game was expanding in the direction of more limited-overs cricket  in decades past there were mature types then who, understandably, did not give thanks for having their memories, understanding, of the game disrupted.  Sentiments that get passed across the generations maybe; but had England won the World Cup in 1979 no-one then would have been bonkers enough to promptly  downgrade the Gillette Cup, and  when England did win the Ashes in 1981, the County Championship was respected in  ways that it just isn’t now.  Much  centralisation of decision-making  since has left the game’s governing body appearing as confused as it is self-interested.

 

 

 

 

 

The Counties and ECB Payments

With cricket as with other team sports there are good reasons to  pool the monies that come into the game. In football the Premier League distributes £ sums in nine figures to individual clubs allowing for example,  AFC Bournemouth and Newcastle United, with their respective histories, to compete against each other.

The MCC library holds records of prize and other monies being shared in domestic cricket since before the time of the TCCB in the 1960s. While the numbers then had five digits fewer than in the top tier of English football now, in the more commercial ECB era the amounts paid out to the individual counties come in £mn and have over the last decade, broadly speaking, been pretty equal. Taken together with the game’s salary cap it gives the smaller counties a chance in the three formats of the game.

The fundamentals of this notwithstanding, the sentiment that a small number of seniors sitting on a bench are not enough to keep the county game afloat has been around for decades; and, of course, around for  those decades have been the first-class counties;  in the time since the snap was taken at Portsmouth in the 1970s  Durham added to their number.

But a mistake to think that there couldn’t be existential issues with the county game, that  domestic cricket doesn’t have a problem with excesses that come from the top. The problematic legacy of  rebuilt TMGs to accommodate  international matches has prompted suggestions by some that The 100 will make, or otherwise just cement, the establishment of  ‘8 super counties’, with not so much, if anything, of a future for the others.

Looking at their respective financial sizes the differences between the scale of operations between the TMGs is very apparent, perhaps more striking than the differences between the TMG counties and those that aren’t. Surrey, something of an outlier with its Oval Events £ generator, is approximately the same size as  Lancashire and Warwickshire put together. There is then another sizeable drop down to Yorkshire: who if not a financial minnow exactly before the rebuild of Headingley,  was then comparable to Derbyshire,  since when in the  financial legal table  it has moved up to bracket with the now  ex-challenger TMGs.

The Cricketer magazine last year had an editorial suggesting that the domestic game was almost £200mn in debt and that the new ECB competition  was ‘a diligently researched, meticulous attempt to eradicate it’.  So is ‘one-half’, or more,  of The 100 really a rather underexposed debt relief scheme?

Trawling through the accounts of the 18 counties for 2017  and allowing something for the ECB reserves held then gives a figure of somewhere around £125-30mn. Quite a lot less debt to eradicate  than might have been thought, maybe; much of it, of course, held by the TMGs, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire with debts £20mn+. So is much of what lies behind, and in front, of The 100  ‘a small country’ re-exporting  problems  from over-expansion back to a much larger one?

Failure, as the saying goes, is an orphan, but to be sure the disorder from too many TMGs has a lengthy history and could reasonably be traced back to three businessmen and a Rose Bowl; the county of the Hambledon club going in search of prestige, and parking, in the 1980s. The game’s finances might well have been easier to manage since had they gone up the river in a boat.

But the problems of excess are a tale of many other decisions as well plainly.  In 2004  the offer from Channel 4 to continue with FTA coverage of Test cricket during 2006-9 was less good than the then existing contract; a message from the past that the  value of TV rights can go down as well as up to say nothing of the consequences  when they do.

The  decision to (almost) max out on £  over exposure from 2020, comes with a big, if not huge, downside risk  given that the world and the  value of TV rights may very well change again by 2023.  In a game that needs to find some sense of balance the sooner it reverses out of The 100 the more likely it is to find it.

The county by county financial details for this post are  on the stats page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County Members

Think of county members and what tends to come to mind is mature folks,  generation 60 at Championship matches, not always appreciated by some in the game although not heard as much as they might have been in relation to The 100 either. With cricket set to embark on this highly experimental change in structure next year, there is an important point about county members: they are still there.

So why weren’t or aren’t members’  voices more of an influence? 15 of the first-class counties are membership  organisations and the collective presence, total numbers, of members on the most recent figures is  still in the high 60,000s, and although down in the time of Sky, it would be a bit surprising if they weren’t given what has happened since 2005.

Cheerfully at the Oval, Taunton and Trent Bridge membership has been on the rise over the years and at Lord’s, MCCC numbers appear to have held steady at around 8,000.  Surrey reportedly 13,000 now, followed by Notts and Somerset, the counties with biggest membership bases.

The drop overall since 2005 from around 80,000 is to a very large extent the falls  at Old Trafford, Headingley and Edgbaston; clubs that borrowed big and underwent ground rebuilds  ‘fit for the 21st century’, with corporate facilities to match, during the great expansion of TMGs. The count of members no more is sharp comment on the nature,  success,  of this venture into cricket stadiums; particularly at Lancashire where the decline is very striking.

It is not news that cricket  has a problem with a  legacy of debts to manage. Given the importance of central funding to the counties, and governance changes resulting in directors  nominating cum appointing  other directors, the influence of members and supporters, those below rather than above, is not what it should be.

Or what it needs to be. On the time horizon covered by the charts what members still there points to is a shifting balance of CC/ODC/T20 types,  generation 40 and above who became interested in the game when it was (much) more widely played in schools than it is now. The ‘ECB risk’ to cricket with its new competition, that it loses more established support than younger  newcomers be attracted, is real enough; but for those not feeling any curiosity or attraction, still less duty, to The 100, happily cricket has a rich legacy of ambient outgrounds which seem set to be used more from next year.

There is a table with the numbers for the 15 counties on the stats page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County ODC Cricket

56 years of Lord’s ODC finals came to an end last month with an occasion played out in front of a rather a lot  of empty seats. While it could be fairly said that  the numbers in attendance were not helped  any by the  same day scheduling  of an England World Cup warm-up match, last year the Mound Stand was pretty much full, the impression that domestic 50-over cricket was  being allowed to wither on its vine was a clear one.

Lord’s for the World Cup Final coming up and later this season host to the National Village and Club Finals, but not any longer a  county ODC (or T20) final;  a decision that seems to reflect a certain petulance as much as anything else. So for those who are not attracted to The 100 what sort of future is there for next year’s ODC?

Messages that it might become a development competition, played by under-25s, now being heard no more and it is a bit surprising that it was ever suggested that it would be. Last year there were around 160 county players under the age of 25 in all three formats of the game, while an 18 team ODC reasonably needs 15 man squads, 270 players (close to 300 appeared this year); the main numbers are just a long way apart.

As for whether those taking to the field will look more like second teams, by no means all 50-over players also play in the Blast to any great extent or indeed at all (from where it seems reasonable to think that most of The 100 players will be drawn).   For what their worth using the 2018 numbers on those who played in both 50 and 20 over formats  an average of 4 players missing  per county is a reasonable guess.

County XIs then rather than first or second teams particularly, although quite how this translates into what spectating will feel like might vary a lot. Not the least of the open questions now is whether there will be a free draft of players into The 100, any player picked by any team, so that it is at at least theoretically possible that the Somerset team who would have started their defence of the ODC title next year will be Welsh Fire and at the other end of the spectrum  some counties lose no  players at all.

Or if not this then what and how much is going to be left to the  managers of individual teams: will the Lancashire Blast players just slip into clothing with Manchester labels?  Sense, rather than a sense of the absurd, may be along at some point, meantime for those  thinking in terms of ambient  outgrounds as well as the cricket next year A is for Arundel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling is the thing that happens in 1/1000th of a second by Christian Ryan

‘One of the most startlingly original cricket books ever published’, wrote Matthew Engel, so picking up this book came with high promise and certainly there are some brilliantly written lead-ins to the photography of Patrick Eager in 1975; writing to heighten the senses, framing images seemingly to the point of intimacy with those performing at the top of the game then.

There is a wonderful panoramic photograph of the  World Cup Final that year:  Lord’s, its setting, the occasion, a reminder of cricket played  in a  less commercial era and a .001 moment in which Viv Richards, then a prince rather than the king is about to run out Ian Chappell; arm pulled back with ball,  Clive Lloyd, the bowler, in position at the wicket, Rohan Kanhai pointing to the other end and both batsmen looking at him with good reason for thinking I might not make this.

During a decade when TV coverage was free, but second chances to see were not many and the original films often taped over, Patrick Eager’s photographs are a large part of the visual record of the game then. Among the other brilliant images in the book are the possibly familiar photo of D.K. Lillee and his follow-through; Phil Edmonds bowling his hat-trick ball to Doug Walters in the same Headingley test, five close fielders crouching but Tony Greig still towering above all and umpire Tom Spencer informing Jeff Thompson, arms stretched out with ‘gunbarrel zeal’ that he had, in fact, just delivered a no-ball.

Quite what is observation, what reaction  pops up in several places and is something Christian Ryan rather wonders about again at the end of the book. As he puts it at one point

….faces in a photograph are sometimes exactly what they seem, sometimes not at all what they seem, and the trick and the hitch is not knowing which is which, or when and this is a part or a lot of the intrigue of photographs.

What is insight, a reveal, what a more or less synthetic pose for publicity not always easy to classify and when does it matter anyway is a question not far behind.  There are action shots in the book which can be reasonably classed as one, but the boundary between action and portraits blurs. FWIW  in 1978 this one blogger took the snap below of a relaxed-looking Geoffrey Boycott during a county game at Southampton, the picture of a man apart rather but also of one in his element. Quite who he is smiling at is a bit of mystery at first glance, not the lady to his right who is looking up at him, but at someone or somewhere in the middle distance.

The attention of the boy in the front row has been distracted, quite possibly by the photo being taken, boundary to wicket distance, prompted as it happened by noticing a serious and not entirely happy looking Geoffrey B fielding with his hands in his pockets, in front of a pavilion well populated with visiting Yorkshire members. As a simple observation this one snap f for failure, although the self-conscious response, looking away from the camera, has since made for a-things-were-better-then picture for Fred Boycott’s twitter followers; an early season warmer for those watching Championship cricket in April, even if it was taken in August.

Patrick Eager understandably enough mentions that he hoped that moving camera position in anticipation of a wicket falling didn’t actually trigger the event; or in the generality of things the opposite, given an intent to record the what had the photographer been elsewhere. More of an issue then than now maybe; with the limits of 1970s technology, he also mentions that it was a case of shoot tight or lose focus, possibly miss the .001 moment that day; but as seen now a tight focus can come at the expense of something of the wider social setting, and with it, arguably less or perhaps just a different feeling.

In the 1970s crowds were allowed on the outfield during intervals at Southampton, as elsewhere, and it was usual to see some taking a closer look at the players coming back out. The difference between his photo of  two West Indians, Bruce Pairaudeau and Everton Weekes coming out in 1957 and that of the two Chappell brothers in 1975 near where the Boycott photo was taken is striking: the first as a teenager, with a teenager’s  ground level view, three policemen helping keep order, unremarked upon; the second as a professional, a bit further in-field, spectators blurred images, their presence something of a problem.

While it would be wrong to say that Patrick Eager didn’t do crowd scenes, you do have to go looking for them a little bit, even at patrickeager.com where some 13,000 of his images have been uploaded. One of the more evocative images in the book is that taken at Trent Bridge showing a time when teenage boys attended Test match cricket in twos and threes, interested enough in the game for it to hold the attention on summer days sat on the grass. It is the photograph of an era when the sport was widely played in schools.

Feeling is ….is no-one’s idea of a coffee table book and the photographs are to be sure better seen in Kindle than the print edition.  Christian Ryan’s narrative does a fine job weaving its way round the images with sharp observations of small details and well-informed comment;  it is an impressive book that for this one reader pretty much lived up to the high expectation that others put on it.