All posts by StephenFH

Counting Members

15 of the counties are membership organisations and while the records are a  bit dated 65,000 is a reasonable estimate of the total number of their members, down from around 85,000 in 2005. A decline is not particularly surprising, but it is not as big a fall as some in the media would suggest.

What’s being counted above is members with votes, adults, numbers from the counties who file away records at the Financial Conduct Authority; so a consistent basis, records largely complete  over the years. The totals are on the low side by comparison with some that could be given: not including juniors and not categories of members which are more akin to season-ticket holders. So not those at Durham, Hampshire  or Northamptonshire, nor some at the 15 counties that are member-owned.

The decline would be that much greater but for Surrey, where members have  doubled in the last 5 years to over 19,000. Quite why and how  it has bucked the trend to the extent it has is a bit of a mystery, although the cost of  a day at the Test at Lord’s might be one thing and the bundling of The 100  with some membership categories another.  But not to doubt the management culture at the Oval which values its members highly.

A disappearing world? At some smaller counties, less or not at all at some others, but overall yes, if only slowly.  As for those there are,  folks with long-memories, resistant to change?  Or just a  balance against an establishment thinking about the pound signs? Giving some influence to those who think that money exists to play cricket continues to look like sanity to me.


Hampshire 2nd XI

Horsham, Hornsey June 6th, 9th

Horhsam, second XI games can be a relaxed  pleasure to watch and about 100 came to see this one, including some folk from Hampshire.  It felt rather like a third day at a Championship match from decades ago: tea stall and bar no  queue, boundary perambulators, ground views without  floodlights. Just no five minute bell.

The players in 20th century style sat outside in the pavilion. Scyld Berry in  Disappearing World struck me as being a bit distant on Hants, patrons  more prominent than home-grown players. But the Second XI sides might be expected to include some  local talent: three in this game  born in the county, two through the Hampshire Cricket Academy; although in truth at least going by birthplaces and schooling  the visitors were not as local as the home side.

Hornsey, one of several venues used by Middlesex 2nds this summer. In  1959 the two counties played a Championship fixture here, one previous 2nds fixture in 1970. On the visitors team-sheet that year Gordon Greenidge, Danny Livingstone and Osburn (‘Ossie’) St C Gooding among others; Hants are a county with a decent history of giving West Indian cricketers an opening when some did not.

This week it was a second success for the visitors with Felix Organ prominent batting against a Middlesex side fielding several first-teamers. Keeping track of SET20  is not the simplest thing, but according to the twitter feed @newsofthetwos for Hants it’s on to finals day, this year at Wormsley.


Disappearing World by Scyld Berry

Once past the opening I  warmed to this book, plain speaking at times  but written by one with a soft spot for all 18 counties. Scyld Berry’s career, life, has taken him watch county cricket at 50 grounds; Abergavenny near the Welsh border a favourite, host  to Glamorgan games in the 1980s and 90s. Wherein, of course, also lies the rub, or at least part of it: in 2023 county cricket is mainly played at main grounds; so  a book to celebrate its heritage and hopefully readers of it will include a decent number of under 50s.

Each county is given a solid chapter; literary references, Jayne Austen in the cause of Derbyshire, high exaltation of Kent CCC  in Canterbury Cathedral and also a  history of the county’s glove-men.  Essex of the smaller counties gets a, or maybe two, thumbs up; nomadic at home for a long time and a first Championship in 1979, Graham Gooch, Nasser Hussain and Alastair Cook major figures of English cricket in the years since.

Among the larger counties the chapter on Lancashire is approving of Old Trafford as now is, a year-round commercial venue; a long historical view of the county taken, an advance from its origins as a gentleman’s club in the 19th century. Likewise positive on Nottinghamshire, high praise for  William Clarke, a bricklayer born in 1798 who layed out the Trent Bridge ground, created the All England Eleven of the Victorian era and was an influence on the early career of  WG Grace.

And the big question: will the 18 first-class counties continue disappearing until such time as….?  There is no epilogue, readers are left to make up their own minds on the future. As to the suggestion the game is over-centralised, a problem with too many TMG counties for the needs of Test cricket,  comment there is on  Sofia Gardens (mistake acknowledged by the ECB),  the Rose Bowl (built in the middle of nowhere, although somewhere may get closer) and Chester-le-Street (better if  Durham’s development had been more like Essex).

Yorkshire CCC keeping up with the TMGs in the 21st century has tied it  to a board with problematic tendencies. The book also mentions Malcolm Marshall’s comment that the only ground in England where the West Indians were racially abused was Headingley (on the terraces). Cricket’s openness, capacity to integrate is a long standing issue, and gets attention in various places in Disappearing World; county success ratings a variable, Essex seemingly  a better story than Leicestershire, at least in the past. Hopefully with  fresh supplies of common sense now at the ECB county cricket will make progress on this.




Grounds May 2023

Old Deer Park, Preston Park (Brighton), Guildford

ODP as seen from the Kew Pagoda, a SET20 fixture going on down below. An  oasis of sorts, even in leafy Richmond; and one with good access:  a bus stop  outside and railway station  nearby. A bit posh? A bit, a sign round the corner  directed  those wanting to give Archery a go, but the pavilion is a friendly place and gives the venue  hearth, in part thanks to its history with London Welsh RFC.

Preston Park,  home to St Peter’s CC, a club that has been going since the 1800s, and the rather unusual feature of cricket being played  within a velodrome, the country’s oldest.  Atmospheric.

One previous visit to Guildford in 1997, Sunday League days and an innings of 203 from pinch hitter Ali Brown against a visibly shell-shocked Hants attack. A modern pavilion in 2023, but otherwise recognisably similar although what once seemed like (very) short boundaries side-on not so much so now. A county game between Surrey and Middlesex women in progress.

Cricket and Race

Critics of English cricket point to the disproportionately high number of club players of a South Asian heritage, figures of 30%+ and then question why so few play in  county cricket, suggestive that culture,  prejudice, frustrates the careers of talented players. How much this might be down to what goes on inside dressing rooms is moot, a question for insiders.

As to the stats  trawling through Cricket Archive for the players who appeared in the Premier Leagues last summer, set up by the ECB to bridge club cricket and the counties,  the % from a South Asian heritage was around half the number above: 28% in Leicestershire, 3% in Cornwall, Yorkshire, around 15% across the county as a whole. As to the numbers of county cricketers in 2022: 6% English qualified, around 10% of the 500+ total including those that weren’t.

So 30%+ to 16% to 6%, why the drop-off? The playing numbers of an age in different ethnicities where they might make it professionally might be one thing, but absent the detail open as to whether it lessens the drop or increases it. Differences  in education? The numbers below are not those of a country replicating the inequalities of past generations, and the Asian-White difference in particular has widened markedly in the last decade.

State School Students with Higher Education Places 2021 %

Asian 55
Black 49
Chinese 72
Mixed 41
White 33
Other 48


Cricket careers are risky, often short-term and it seems fair to think education is a fundamental and maybe  large  influence behind the drops. It’s a comment that could also  be made in relation to other ethnicities where there seems to be a similar pattern, Jewish cricketers for example.

Of the 24 English players from South Asian families who played for a county last summer 10 had been to an independent school at some point.  It’s a slightly smaller proportion than for county players generally, but broadly the playing base of English cricket is excessively reliant on three minorities: those with a South Asian heritage, those that have been privately educated and those who are neither but have a relative who has played the game. It’s about 1 in 6 of the general population and the obvious strategic question is what about everyone else?




Cricket and Privilege

Is red-ball cricket fairly thought of as a game for the privileged classes?  Lord’s prices for Test matches are certainly one pointer. As to  the players, on the county circuit 105 out of (14*11=) 154 at the Oval last summer had been to an independent school, add in those from overseas with similar educations and the 2022  county champions may have been the most privileged in the competition’s history.

Cricket Archive data.

Whether Surrey were also champions because of it is moot; the numbers for Sussex and Worcester were  not so different, the numbers for the ‘smaller East Midlands counties’ not so many. The average of English-qualified players across the game was around 55%, although fair to add this was slightly above that for the  England teams in the 15 Tests in 2022 (52%).

But the head count of players that have been to an independent school, whether on a bursary or fee-paying, has risen markedly in recent seasons; of those that weren’t around in 2018 but were in 2022  the figure is close to 60%. While it  fits in to what might  have been expected given the ECB’s priority of £s over FTA after 2005, it’s also a legacy that probably has a distance to run over the next decade.  An increasing concentration from a small number of independent schools seems likely, getting on for a quarter of English players came through 20 of them last year.

In ‘democratic’ white-ball cricket this reliance on places attended by 6-7% of those of school age was quite similar, the numbers a bit higher if anything; as broadly it was with the pattern of domestic and England players’ backgrounds. Cricket Archive has not so very much on those in the Women’s 100, although it would be no big surprise if it was in line with the men; for what it’s worth the counts last year were 6/13.

There is an obvious follow-on question here about the backgrounds of recreational players. As to the answer to the long-term decline in  the game’s playing base being private equity at the top, cue higher ticket prices; football has  travelled a distance up-market from where it was in 1992, but with cricket, starting from here, why follow?

Cricket and Privilege










England’s Cricketers in 2022

2022  started with Australia finishing off an Ashes whitewash, but some high performances since by England  in a year of much cricket: 15 Tests, 12 ODIs and 28 T20 fixtures; a schedule with 115 playing days, Ben Stokes  playing  on more days than anyone.

It’s a tricky period for the high performance thinking in the Strauss Review and the idea that less will lead to better: in 2022 the number of playing days, the different formats on  England’s (nine-month) schedule were pretty much pro rata with the domestic season. 48 players overall, a few too many to put on one graphic, but still an idea below about who did what, and the split between  red and white-ball players: most  mainly, if not wholly, one or the other.

Scheduled days, source Cricket Archive.

All good then or simply too much? The non-crowd at ODI batch number CA20ECB12  was one pointer  this year. But there are 45 Test matches coming up over the next four years and  county members putting their hands up for a 14-game  Championship have quite reasonably been giving those in charge a fair reminder.


Cricketers and their Education

A trawl through Cricket Archive five years ago gave a count of 126 county players qualified for England who had been  educated privately, about 40% of the total. Last summer this number had risen to  well over 50%; no great surprise given the general background, and if well over 50% was well over 60 five years from now that wouldn’t be a great surprise either.

Is there a ceiling to this and is it less than, say, 90%? The ages of those playing last summer is shown in the graphic, the 46 year-old Darren Stevens at one end,  Hamza Shaikh at the other, who at the age of 16 played in four ODC matches for Warwickshire. He is the first county cricketer born the year after the ending of the game FTA.

Overall a lot of cricket is played by those who will have  come to the sport in the early 2000s,  the dependence on public schools for players now largely set by a declining playing base years ago. Cue then the criticisms of the ECB as being about concentration at the top, exclusiveness. Pragmatically, as long as Eastbourne College and Millfield School among others are producing enough talented players days at the Test will still be around, but the fact remains a lot of playing potential will have been missed.






County Cricketers in 2022

Do county cricketers play too much? Jos Buttler played for Lancashire in one  game last summer, Steven Croft played in them all; a count of 41 with the county’s progress in white-ball cricket, 83 scheduled days. Across the the game well over 500  players appeared for the 18 counties at some point and an idea of the amount they played is shown in the graphic.

Statistically, the  median (half playing less, half more) was 23 days, more than 260 played less including those involved in a relatively small number of Championship games, newcomers in the One-Day Cup and some playing in most of The Blast; overall, disproportionately white-ball cricketers.

Those playing more the other way of course and for what it’s worth the mean average was 30, averaging as it does across red and white ball players, those who are both. But  most of the names on the game’s team sheets play on a lot more days than this: the 100 who played the most had schedules of 56 days+, among whose number was  Alastair Cook who played in 14 County Championship fixtures.

Too much?  The numbers north of 60 days are largely a reflection of the number of  players who play in most Championship games, nearly a 100 played in 12 or more in 2022. Yet there is a justification for this, given what funds the sport is not primarily The 100 (a little over 10% of the £) or even The Blast (counties about 25% all in)  but ‘England’, ECB tv deals, which, still, is largely about Test cricket in a country that plays it more than others.

Playing  data sourced from Cricket Archive.





Grounds August-September 2022

The Oval, Horsham, Folkestone and Hove

The One-Day Cup was in situ as a Sunday League fixture last month and it was just like some old times for spectators, the power of the outfield as remarked on twitter. Good job the Surrey ground staff and management.

Sussex Martlets v The Forty Club at Cricket Field Road, Horsham.  A county List A game was last scheduled for 2020, so perhaps Sussex will return  in the not too distant future.  Very pleasant.

Cheriton Road, Folkestone, Kent 2nd XI v Hants 2nd XI and  37 years to the day since one previous visit. A half bowl and still a fine view from where the old pavilion was (now no more), 30 minutes there good for the equilibrium.

Hove, season’s end at a ground that makes me want to return.