All posts by StephenFH

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 Lord’s 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 Lord’s 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 Lord’s 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 £80 for a ticket  for Test cricket at Lord’s 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.

Watching Hampshire in the Arlott Era

Fifty summers ago the blogger had the good fortune to first watch cricket at Dean Park,  Bournemouth,  where the end of August cricket week festival compared with any that were held around the country, in an era of cricket festivals. Attended by an appreciative audience of locals and tourists, advance notice of the fixtures was given on the windows of the town’s yellow buses, alongside the adverts for the end of pier shows.

Playing Warwickshire, David Brown bowling to David Rock
Alvin Kallicharran batting

Surrounded by pine trees and the back gardens of large houses, the nearby college clock announced the passage of time on the hour, helping to set the rhythm of  days spent watching. A ten minute walk  to the town centre allowed some to head off  to the  pleasure gardens to hear the  visiting  bands play in the afternoon, or on Saturdays play themselves, or go to Dean Court, returning later.

Spectators across the age spectrum watching red ball cricket.

The  PA announced that membership was ‘the life-blood of the county’, encouraging those who weren’t to join. In another age in terms of information, the club office listened to the lunchtime cricket scoreboard on the radio and relayed it to those present.

 

Gordon Greenidge, an innings to win a t40 trophy, 1978.

The game got a new lease of life with one day cricket in the 1960s, the  Sunday League in 1969; a t40 competition with one match a week televised by the BBC; 2pm starts, gates opening at 12 and considerable queuing to get in quite normal. In the west country, at the height of the powers of Ian Botham, Joel Garner and Viv Richards gates opened at 10, four hours before the scheduled start.

Playing Somerset at Clarence Park, Weston-super-Mare

Travelling west in an Austin A30, not a vehicle known for its speed, or overtaking; although overtake it did with the help of the ‘voice of the Hampshire PA’, as front seat passenger and travelling guest of  honour.

 

Portsmouth week 1973, Hampshire were County Champions that year.

The United Services Ground in Portsmouth; where trains heading to and from the harbour station would slow to afford passengers a view of the play, as John Arlott would say when commentating. In later years a new rugby stand was erected and the catering advanced to include homemade teas on Sundays.

Before they were famous: Mark Nicholas fielding at slip.

Basingstoke; venue  for player benefit matches because of the support given.  A friendly club-house with teas dispensed in mugs from its kitchen.

 

A Hampshire team with two ICC Hall of Fame cricketers at Hove, being led from the field by Keith Stevenson.

John Arlott’s retirement in 1980 coincided almost exactly with the end of an era in British history;  the ‘voice of cricket’ of his time, with an appreciation for the contributions of the  honest  ‘county pro’. In the years that followed cricket festivals succumbed to centralising tendencies, the search for comforts corporate rather than co-operative, although for those that remember them the years before were good ones in which to watch cricket.

 

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.

Cricket : The Game of Life by Scyld Berry

 

Every reason to celebrate says the front of the book and certainly it is impressive in both its scope and detail. The author’s ‘net’ on the game was in the 1960s when John Arlott was the voice of cricket, a man remembered for his sympathy for the ‘county pro’, who wrote of his abiding nostalgia for the domestic circuit when he retired in 1980. Those at the top of the game have moved a long way since then and in its own way this book shows just how far.

There is much on the development of the game around the world and much is drawn from the 400+ Test Matches the author has attended. This makes it good on, for example, what happened when Captain Gatting met Umpire Rana and why. There is sharp observation on the behaviour of Hanse Cronje and his personality and the extent to which match-fixing is hidden from view by vested interests. The chapter on the psychological framing and stresses at the top is a good one and Marcus Trescothick is rightly applauded for his honesty, although it is not always clear just how much sympathy the author has for his subjects, if any; perhaps it was just intended that readers should decide when to supply their own.

The account of the match between Kent and the Rest of England at the Artillery Ground in 1744, the first match for which an entrance ticket survives, does a good job of bringing history to life. Kent, captained by the Duke of Dorset’s gardener pointing the way for the game to challenge the established social order and arguably thrive because of it. The book also mentions that there were matches between cities in the 19th century, whether the current proposals just represent the latest challenge to the established order and the game will thrive anew, or the opposite if the elites at the Nursery End has miscalculated an open question now.

For those with the time to read its 400 pages a book to educate and inform, some strong opinions given to make the reader agree with or not, for which bravo the author.

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 Lord’s 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.