All posts by StephenFH

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.