The Oval

Surrey versus Hampshire  July 16 1978, July 3-6, 2017

To the Oval, about to celebrate staging its 100th test but also a place  where the question posed by CLR James in Beyond a Boundary…what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?…still resonates. The book, published in 1963, came after the appointment of Frank Worrell as West Indian captain and the decades that followed were to become a time of Caribbean dominance in cricket; the  Oval, particularly in the 1970s, a place  where the West Indian team and their supporters  made a statement against a background of prejudice and lives being difficult.

Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards batting for Hampshire for a final time in  a Sunday League match. Intikab fielding.
Andy Roberts and Richard Gilliat.

West Indian cricketers were also prominent in the domestic English game, Hampshire very much included, although by comparison with the tests, county matches were relatively calm occasions; four days for county cricket then  meant a Championship game  played on a Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, together with a 40-over Sunday League  match. When  Hampshire went to the Oval in July 1978 the Sunday saw Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards open a Hampshire innings  for the final time in a Sunday League match, putting on 97; with the help of some late hitting by Andy Roberts the innings totalled 238-7 at a time when 240 was a ‘good score’ in 60 over cricket and heading over the horizon in the 40 over format.

John Edrich the non-striker, umpire Tom Spencer. Benches for spectators.

Surrey however, with a team that had John Edrich, Younis and Intikab chased down the runs with a ball to spare, despite economical overs of medium pace bowling by John Rice and Tim Tremlett.  A defeat for Hampshire to get over and also the last  weekend in which Andy Roberts played for the county; although in a message about winning competitions they went on to lift the Sunday League trophy that September, winning four of their five remaining games played, in  large part thanks to Gordon Greenidge who made two centuries, and also perhaps to a  changed dressing room.

The Bedser Stand to the right of the pavilion, a redevelopment is planned after the 2019 World Cup.

In the years since the Oval has been largely rebuilt, albeit that it retains much the same ambience for watching the game. Gas holder number 1 is now seen as iconic and has been granted grade II listed building status.

Cricket, of course, no longer holds the place in West Indian culture that once it did; the Oval in  2017, home to Surrey cricket and to much corporate hospitality and event management, a reflection of the prosperity of London in an era in which, broadly, those born in the decades after WWII, those at the top, have done particularly well. The capacity of the ground is planned to rise to 40,000 in time for the 2023 Ashes test;  an expression of confidence in the future, although if the current era beyond the boundary is now drawing to a close, the effect on English cricket, the Oval, is really anyone’s guess.

George Bailey and Jimmy Adams making runs in the sunshine.
Dominic Sibley lbw Kyle Abbott, Hants confer.
Some lively spells from Fidel Edwards.
Hampshire’s future promise, Mason Crane and Lewis McManus.

In the 2017 fixture it was Surrey, with their home in the global city, that took to the field with ten England qualified players and Hampshire who were the team of internationalists: four England qualified players, three South Africans, two Australians, one Zimbabwean  and one West Indian. The first two days were dominated by Hampshire who posted their 5th highest ever score,  648-7, with centuries from Jimmy Adams, James Vince and George Bailey; but they were also then  left with the difficult task  of bowling out an opponent twice on the same pitch. Rory Burns led Surrey’s response from the front, but Hampshire  stuck at it with Fidel Edwards, now just one of four West Indians on the county circuit, bowling quickly on the third evening and handy support given  by Ian Holland who took five wickets on the final day; although, in truth, the Oval was rather becalmed on the fourth afternoon. A draw on a draw wicket.

From the Oval, the pleasures of a county match in an empty cathedral; in a nice touch on the first day there was  a presentation made to Surrey members who had passed their personal half-centuries of membership; if other counties don’t do something similar in a better world they would. Hampshire stronger than they were a year ago and they should be playing Division 1 again next year; if they were to win four of their remaining five matches this year they could still be on to something.

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.

 

Summer’s Crown by Stephen Chalke

A beautifully illustrated book, written with great clarity by a hugely well-informed author; part social history, although as much as anything the strength of the book is the character portrayals of the players who played the game in different eras, individuals as different as Brian Close and Shane Warne for example. The format of the book, picking out particular performances and matches, teams in particular seasons works well; it is just a pity that many of the grounds that appear in the book are no longer in use by county teams.

It is the story of a competition which in the parlance of modern analysts is not particularly well-balanced; Surrey, Middlesex and Yorkshire have been champions in roughly half the years it has been played, three counties have still to win it and a fourth, Derbyshire, won  it once, before WWII. To some extent this seems to have been rectified in the modern era with the arrival of one-day competitions in the 1960s, and the history of the competition has surely been more interesting, happier, as the number of winners has increased over the years.

Quite how much the Championship and one-day competitions have fed off each other and in quite what ways is an interesting question, and is touched on in the book: a ‘grounded’ club like Essex, for example, first champions in 1979, six time winners now and have now won sixteen trophies in all. The likelihood of three counties still to win the Championship actually doing so at some point in the future, has also probably been generally helped by them winning their share of  limited-overs competitions; although not always, Gloucestershire in 1977 denied by Hampshire who they had earlier in the season narrowly defeated in a one-day semi-final en route to winning that trophy.

Deck chairs, trees at the county ground, Hove.

It is striking that the photographs in the counties section has just one, Trent Bridge, which is a test match venue and one that is a current county ground, Worcester. The view that county cricket is often at its best for spectators when sitting in deck chairs at tree-lined out grounds is well-represented in this book: Colwyn Bay or Cardiff, Aigburth or Old Trafford; Scarborough or Headingly? Hopefully at some point more matches will be played away from the centres.

The book comes with  handy stats for reference, some extras on the scorers and umpires.  There is also a contender for a gremlin on page 274, but nothing that  detracts from the pleasure of reading this book.

 

 

Champions Trophy 2017

As England neared their victory over Bangladesh in the opening game Michael Atherton commented that he expected more runs to be scored than was the case four years ago, observing that the game has ‘moved on’; the influence of heavier bats,  changing boundary ropes and mindsets at work amongst all other things. If he is right, and it is harder to know what ‘a good score’ is, then winning the  toss and fielding first seems likely to be an advantage.

As to the actual scores four years ago; overall almost 6000 runs  in the 15 matches played, an average rate of  5.3 runs per over, although these total figures are distorted rather by the four games affected by rain in 2013. Of the 11 games that weren’t, the average first innings total was around 230 and a score of 300 plus registered just once. Scores of under 200 were made four times. If the weather holds fair this month the question seems to be by how much will the numbers rise, although quite how exciting and/or interesting the cricket will be another matter again.

Forty-two years ago in the summer of 1975 England also hosted the first Prudential World Cup, sixty overs a side in a fifteen game tournament, with the West Indies the winners in a memorable final. Memorable because of the fluctuating fortunes of bat and ball , the early West Indian wickets, the brilliance of Clive Lloyd’s innings and late in the day the efforts of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson to retrieve a seemingly lost cause, in an innings that was to end with five run outs. 565 runs in all, at less than five an over; if it had been 50 over cricket perhaps the target would have been around 230 rather than the actual total of 291, but as to whether it was both exciting and interesting? Certainly was.

Postscript 19th June A win by the underdogs, Pakistan, who having lost to India by 150+ runs in a group match got to the final and reversed the outcome. An epic performance by them even if there weren’t any particularly epic matches taking the tournament as a whole.

A 1000 more runs were scored than in 2013, approaching half of all runs scored came in boundaries; the average  score of those batting first  up from around 230ish to 270ish. As to the entertainment it produced, pictures for the TV with the ball heading into the crowd, although the pressures when a team batting are not  making the runs they were expecting to seems to have help  produce some very one-sided matches as well.

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.

A blog about English cricket