Category Archives: Counties

County Cricketers in 2018

The performance of the England team this winter has again led some to suggest that the talent pool for the professional game is in general too reliant on players from overseas and on those who were educated at fee-paying schools. It is not too difficult to point to particular occasions when this might be thought so, the Hampshire team below at the Oval last summer, for example, according to the details on Cricket Archive consisted entirely of players who were one or the other.

Yet the home team in that match, with its base in the global city, put out a side with 10 England qualified players, from a mix of state and independent schools, together with the South African, Conor Mckerr.  As might be expected the backgrounds of the playing squads do vary a fair bit from  county to county and numbers on all the counties are in a file on the stats page above.

What the totals show is that in 2018 76% of the more than 440 players are England-qualified, of whom in turn some 37% were privately educated in this country. There is therefore still a sizeable number who were at a  state school, although many who were have also come from a family of cricket players.

The educational backgrounds of the players now do of course reflect the state of the game in schools a decade and more ago. When Chance to Shine was established in 2005 a commonly quoted stat was that the game had declined over the decades to the point where it was played in perhaps 10% of state schools; to which could be added the simple observation that participation had also declined, but less quickly maybe, in independent schools as well. Whether this decline was bottoming out then or still had, or still has, further to go is central to the likely future direction of the numbers here, but getting anything like a clear picture on this really requires figures over several years.

For what it is worth the % numbers of England qualified players is slightly up this year on last. There are however the not especially comforting stats that 20% of the game’s English players now were educated in just 1% of the schools in the independent sector, and that while the ECB has operated a policy of financially rewarding the counties with age-related payments for those who are England- qualified, in 2018 proportionately greater numbers of those under the age of 26 are the products of  independent schools.

To this there is a something like common sense observation that the relative numbers playing the game in state and fee-paying schools, while important, are secondary to the total numbers playing. The ECB’s efforts to promote the game in schools and at the grassroots certainly deserve to be a high priority, although whether the same can be said for a city-based t20 league as the way to produce a generational shift in interest is another question again.

In the game’s past, before the county structure became established,   W.G. Grace played for a United South of England Eleven, in effect a team of travelling salesmen for the game that took it to many places around the country and across the Irish Sea, showing the best of it to people who had not seen it before.  A United North of England and All-England teams led by others did something similar for varying periods at much the same time historically. A hundred years later, when interest in the long form of the game was dwindling in the decades after WWII, the counties took a shortened (t40) version, played by teams that included the world’s best players, to the round number of 100 cricket grounds on Sunday afternoons.

In 2020, the ECB seemingly expect a new audience to do the travelling to a competition to be played at just 8 grounds. What the 2018 stats on the backgrounds of professional players show is the small numbers who have been educated in Cardiff, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton;  one indicator of the interest levels in the game in those cities in the relatively recent past. If, as must be  quite likely, it is correlated with the potential number of new spectators coming along after them, then a message for the prospects for 2020 t20 getting much traction and being a success.

Arrowgate

Kartikeya Date  wrote a comment piece a while back expressing amazement at how few professional observers seemed to be aware of how over rates are calculated in international cricket and the  indulgences in mistaken arithmetic that follow from it (http://cricketingview.blogspot.co.uk). The subject of over rates was again prominent this week in English cricket with the Championship standings for 2017 finally settled;  Middlesex’s appeal against a penalty of two points for slow rates, in the game when an arrow landed on the Oval, rejected.

Championship cricket requires a minimum of 16 overs an hour, which, maybe confusingly, is not to say that those counties who meet the minimum will actually be bowling 16 overs an hour as pavilion  clocks tick round. The over rate calculation that is used is

(Time spent in the field in minutes- allowances)/3.75

Rule 16.4 in particular states that two minutes are allowed for when a wicket falls, although not the last wicket or one that is followed directly by an interval. There is no allowance for a drinks break. So, if a team was in the field for an hour with no wickets or anything else to allow for, the calculation becomes 60/3.75 = 16, although, in practice, if a team is to incur a penalty they have to be in the field for at least four hours. As to the anything else that is allowed for, the ECB rules have this to say

“Any suspension of play for an injury to a player or for any other reason beyond the control of the players shall be a deductible allowance”.

So, if an inebriated spectator made their way onto the field and held up play an allowance could easily be made in the calculation. What Arrowgate raised is what happens when there is a longer suspension,  such as one from a safety or security alert, that might lead to the early termination of a match, or otherwise seriously reduce the available time for play.

The  rules are, of course, cast in terms of the team fielding at the time play is suspended,  although the calculation for determining penalties is done on a match basis and  a longer suspension might, of course, affect the team batting as well; as arguably happened on the 4th day of the Surrey v Middlesex match. Actually giving players leeway on this appears problematic given the way the rules are expressed through the over rate calculation;  at the  moment players are given consideration for relatively short interruptions, but not for more lengthy ones, something that,  on the face of it,  seems ironic.

This time round it appears that the ECB have dealt with a problem by sitting on it. It would be a very good thing for spectators if the safety-related issues  raised that day were not sat on, the need for ground authorities to communicate and co-ordinate operationally in particular. A comment on the blogger’s experience that afternoon is here http://bythesightscreen.com/surrey-versus-middlesex-4th-day/

Over on planet football, when Manchester United played AFC Bournemouth at the end of the 2015-16 season, there was a safety alert when a suspect package was found in the toilets before the kick-off, leading to a postponement. During the  evacuation of the ground, which took 20 minutes plus as one side of the stadium was emptied followed by the other, the blogger’s experience was that the PA was telling spectators  to remain by their seats, while turnstile operators directly underneath were allowing spectators  to exit, that of others that spectators were still being admitted to the ground at the time of the evacuation.

Happily all who went to the ground that day went home again, as might be expected when the suspect package was, in fact,  a training device. The follow-on question here is were it necessary to evacuate a large crowd at a cricket ground, say 15 minutes before the start of a T20 match, would the response be better than at Old Trafford 18 months ago?

 

2017 Extras

It is sometimes said that the whole world is on YouTube, certainly it has the interview with John Cleese by Cricket World, who recalled when his first trip to Clarence Park, Weston-super-Mare,  was the most exciting thing in his life and when playing the game was more about honour. The Spirit of Cricket well remembered.

In 2017 many Championship fixtures were drawn, so credit to the players  who continued to work hard, even when the games were going nowhere and spectators in attendance were sparse.

The T20 Blast drew crowds of 20,000 plus to  the Home of Cricket on more than one occasion and when Middlesex took a game to Old Deer Park, a record number turned up there as well. It would be fair to add there were some obvious limits to the interest of a cosmopolitan crowd in the capital on a night out, large numbers were not turned away from ODP (gate 4,000 that evening) and a very noticeably smaller number attended  Surrey’s quarter-final against Warwickshire, the Friday evening before a bank holiday. 14,000 tickets were pre-sold said the Sky commentator rather anxiously  as the cameras panned the empty seats. As for the wisdom of two t20 domestic  competitions from 2020, this seemed a bit bonkers at the beginning of the season and still seemed that way at the end of it.

A first for the blogger was an afternoon watching a WCSL fixture, Surrey Stars versus Western Storm, £5 a bargain. Plenty of free hitting and a highly competitive  match.   In the afterglow of winning the World Cup the women’s game looks like it could grow and grow; spectators who were new to the game of cricket came as did those who have been before, touches of colour appeared in parts where, so far, in the men’s game it hasn’t.

Not good was the day when a nut with a bow let go of an arrow. It landed on the Oval, the players took cover and the pigeons moved over. It could be said that all is well that ends well although, security wise, some things can always go better and hopefully they will, if one day they be needed.

And finally, Rory Burns was out, and also off, 30 minutes or so from the end of the Surrey v Hants Championship match in July. The Surrey captain and opening bat was stumped by Lewis McManus off the bowling of Sean Ervine for 68; Surrey were following on after he had carried his bat in their first innings making 219. Some staying power in the era of T20 cricket; it was  a becalmed afternoon in high summer in a game that was still a pleasure to watch.

Surrey versus Middlesex 4th Day

Surrey versus Middlesex  31st August 2017

It having been a good week for red ball cricket, to the Oval to see the final afternoon of the London derby. A Middlesex rear guard action and a game heading for a  draw after tea, when the players  suddenly and unexpectedly left the field. No announcement was forthcoming although after a  few moments some sort of security alert seemed very probable.

Time and other things are suspended rather in these situations, two security staff walked round the boundary edge on the Harleyford Road side of the ground, up the steps, passing by this spectator, being good enough to indicate an arrow being carried by one of them, onwards in the direction of the hospitality custom above, where (presumably) they thought they might find a bow. I gather they didn’t.

Meanwhile members in the pavilion looked around at each other awaiting communication as did other spectators; after a period of 10-15 minutes, perhaps more than that, a plainly nervous gentleman on the PA apologised for the delay in making an announcement, but would spectators please take cover now, which being sensible people they did. The BBC commentary team spoke of lockdown  although this spectator and others simply headed out of the ground and down the road to Vauxhall Station.

From a distance of about two feet the arrow certainly looked like it would have done a serious damage to someone had it struck them; luckily as well as happily this day it didn’t.

The individual response by the security staff was good; as for their managerial co-ordination there was a rather long delay in telling spectators to take action and before the episode  is passed into the filing cabinet, mental and otherwise, what could be done to shorten it on any future such occasion should be somewhere near the top of the list of priorities.

 

 

 

The Scoreboard

Whither the cricket scoreboard? Time was when spectators would look at the scoreboard a lot: a single taken, a glance,  end of the over reached, another glance, many glances over the course of a game. When the Beeb covered test cricket at the end of an over a shot of the scoreboard would often appear.  Then came the 21st century, Sky and, at least at some grounds, free Wi-Fi; electronic boards replaced mechanically operated ones to some advantage, which is not to say that they are always easier to see from a distance.

The photo to the right was taken this summer at the Oval  during a county game. The blogger’s take is that the  information from the scorers has been well-filtered,  for those taking a glance what else might they reasonably expect to see during the first innings of a Championship match? For other details the BBC website, cricket archives and Wikipedia; a good job done, as usual, at the Oval.

 As for T20 cricket, the scoreboard at Old Deer Park, Richmond on the left, also this summer, doing scoreboard essentials in a manner of speaking; gleaning from somewhere the batsmens’ squad numbers would be useful for spectators, but for a board at a club ground doubling as an outground nothing more expected.

T20 cricket at the Home of Cricket, a large crowd come to see and make the game’s future. The scoreboard for action replays, umpiring decisions and the faces in the crowd whose Thursday night just got better giving thanks for being in receipt of a (sponsor’s name) hamper. As for spectators keeping an eye on the score as well, the scoreboard(s) were doing something suspiciously like information overload; a distant second in terms of clarity to what Sky show during their coverage of matches and not obviously helping newcomers take more interest in the game. If the board just showed the score, batsmen runs (balls), the bowler bowling overs/runs and the target to win/off, it could be made a whole lot more visible to those who come without a camera with zoom.

 

 

 

Old Deer Park, Richmond

Middlesex versus Kent, T20 Blast, 20th July 2017

The first match Cricketarchive records as being played at ODP was a fixture in 1867 between Richmond and a United South of England Eleven, a  team of travelling cricketers taking the game around the country. It was the second USEE match of that season, having lost a  few days earlier in Southampton with the Hampshire county team  finishing 95-13. They won at ODP  by an innings, and their itinerary that summer was to take them round southern England including Harrow, Islington and Southgate in Middlesex and Ashford and Maidstone in Kent, the games being played with 11 against between 15 and up to 22 on occasion.

Kent take to the field.
Brendon McCullum, 9 4’s and 6 6’s
Tim Southee, bowled around his legs for Matt  Coles’ hat-trick ball.

150 years later, Middlesex were taking games to outgrounds and the Kent team that took to the field was made up of players born in Ashford, Maidstone and elsewhere.  There were globe travelling  cricketers available to showcase their talents on both sides;  Brendon McCullum, one of the game’s major figures, and Dawid Malan, from Roehampton to Richmond via Paarl in a manner of speaking, opened for Middlesex and gave them a good blast with a partnership that made 92 for the first wicket; ‘ain’t no stopping us now’ accompanied Dawid Malan  back to the pavilion. Brendon McCullum went onto make 88, 72 of which came in boundaries, and together with a rapid 28 from Eoin  Morgan, over 200 was possible for a time, but the innings was checked by a hat-trick by Matt Coles in the final over.

Jimmy Neesham giving Kent a chance.

Kent went in search of 180, but were soon two wickets down, the second over being a wicket maiden bowled by Steven Finn and Middlesex fielded with three slips at one point;  but Kent rallied with a fourth wicket partnership between Sam Northeast and Jimmy Neesham, the New Zealander,  hired by the visitors for the tournament;  Alex Blake kept the visitors hopes real until  a boundary catch at the end of the 18th over. They finished 16 short.

The Pagoda in Kew Gardens was under wraps this year, and the vantage point of the London Welsh rugby stand was also closed, but ODP, home to a cricket club that was established in the middle of the 19th century and with the oldest rugby club around the corner does sporting history; a place in which the T20 Blast felt like a descendant of the 40 over Sunday League,  cricket a bit more like cricket and comparisons with baseball more distant.

 

The Royal London One Day Cup 2017

Nottinghamshire both popular and worthy winners this year, having played the extra game and scored 1100 runs in total in their defeats of Somerset (429-9), the record-breaking run chase in the semi-final at Chelmsford (373-5) on the way  to the final itself (298-6). The chief contributors with the bat,  Brendan Taylor, Steven Mullaney,  Samit Patel and Alex Hale, were different players in different matches.

Surrey perhaps did not get enough runs in the final: the average score in the tournament as a whole for teams batting first was just under 300 and the ‘good score’ has probably advanced to around 350 for many games;  certainly the epic run chase at Chelmsford was arguably the most entertaining 50 over cricket during the Champions Trophy, helped in its own way by some excited and nervous commentators on Sky.

The final had 18 out of 22 England qualified players take to the field, two of whom dominated the game and the winning captain, Chris Read, a Devonian, was a popular figure. In this respect the final was a fair reflection of the backgrounds of the players throughout the competition, over three quarters of whom were England qualified.

David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd commentating on Luke Fletcher’s bowling was the essence of county cricket on a Lords finals day. As to the less good, the ground was less than full and the Pavilion was not well populated at all.  While the blocking of competitions in the calendar and the late notice that it gives supporters is likely to be a part of the explanation,  it was also noticeable that in a week when TV and reach were the ECB headline, there was a near general silence  among  twitterati on the availability of tickets. In the ‘final’ played between Middlesex and Yorkshire in the Championship at the end of 2016, the crowd grew by some thousands in the afternoon and it is difficult to see why tickets are not sold for after the innings break when it is not a sell-out.

The media orchestrated celebrations which take place at one end of the ground, while the winning team’s supporters are at the other end empties out what should be a moment of triumph. The trophy presentation could surely be done in the middle, if not in front of the winning supporters, without risking the image of the media personalities in charge.

 

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.