Category Archives: County Cricket

Overplayed Players?

Compiled from Cricket Archive, England-qualified players.

Counting the days county cricketers played last summer at one end of the spectrum Tazeem Ali, who as a 17-year old made an appearance in the Metro Bank Cup for Warwickshire, at the other Matt Critchley,  70 days plus for Essex. The median  was 29  (50% playing more, 50% less), the mean average 33. Too much? The season ran for almost six months, 177 days.

Twice these numbers too much? Framed as one day on stage, one day preparation, one day off is not way out of line with at least some of the professions; almost 90% of 360+ players played  less than 60 days, those more were not far from the 1:1:1 ratio. The Strauss HPR proposals for a 10 game County Championship, all changes done would have meant a max of 70 (74?) days, not all that much of a solution to the problem(s) as seen by its advocates.

A very conflicted schedule with player welfare at best secondary?  Nick Friend’s piece in the  Cricketer pointed to Glamorgan in the middle of last summer: a Championship game in Durham, then Chelmsford, then five journeys to and from South Wales;  nine games in 22 days. A recipe for fatigue? Kiran Carlson and Sam Northeast played in all of them, two of nineteen players for Glams in those games.  A figure fairly typical of  other counties, those playing at Durham making up about half the names on the team sheets.

But a core of players who played CC, Blast and ODC/100 matches, 44 with more than 60 days.  A certain concentration among the smaller counties? For Derby, Leicester and Northampton there were four between them.  Spin bowlers waiting to the end of May to get into games?.. more of those. Good reasons for county members to agree to a reduction in the 14 game Championship? Looking at these numbers not for this one.

Red and White Ball County Players in 2023

A follow-on post from the last one including the white-ball players of last summer.  Overall 55%  came through an independent school although this average is from a long-term trend that is heading up. There is also a high dependence on a small number of schools: around a quarter of the 360+ English players in 2023 came through 20 independents.

Not great from the point of view of drawing from the widest possible pool of players and it’s a picture that doesn’t get better if fathers and sons, other family members, are factored in.  2023 saw a D’Oliveira at New Road for the 44th season since the arrival of Basil in 1964, something to smile at, as with other family connections as individuals, but across the game  70%  were either from a public school or a cricketing family or both

Given  non-recording of some details at Cricket Archive the actual figure was probably higher. So is county cricket heading for a time when there are  no outsiders, just players from legacy independent schools and  families from the game’s history? Literally all from one, the other or both?

It might get (very) close. The county  breakdown of those from independent schools is below and, broadly, is quite similar to  that for CC players in the last post, which counted appearances. Going by either the existence of Durham is one reason why the game will probably stop short of literally all, even if the present trend has another decade to run.

 

Championship Cricketers in 2023

How reliant is the County Championship  on fee-paying schools for players? Just over a half last summer (55%) came through one, not as high a figure as pieces on the England team might sometimes hint at, but still very disproportionate. Alternatively counting appearances gives a similar %, the variation between some of the counties striking if not especially surprising.

The numbers are based on 97% of the 284 who played, self-replies from the players to the archive. Allowing for overseas players around 120 names on the season’s team  sheets is typical for a county,  so a 10% difference between may be just one  player, fuzziness on the detail of who counts as English-qualified.

But the overall average is a reasonable guide to a half of them.  At one end Durham, with more players coming through catholic schools than some; Essex, players significantly drawn from the county and east London. At the other when Somerset played  Surrey last summer 16 of the 18  English players had at some point been to a fee-paying school;  the two not currently on tour with England.

Also in the archive  a record of  Jimmy Anderson taking  wickets for Burnley IIIs as a 13 year-old at Turf Moor in 1996; another world, one where the BBC was covering Test matches. In 2023 he was one of  85  players over the age of 30 who appeared in the Championship: around a third of them went to private schools, among the under 25s (there were 92 of them) the proportion was close to twice that.

Going by the numbers in the 2022 season including white-ball players gives patterns that are broadly similar. Reversing, or even just moderating a trend years,  decades, in the making looks like a long road, the  follow on is how far will  ECB and county managers   be heading along it?

 

 

 

 

 

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Outgrounds in 2023

In 2023 there have been  57 days in the men’s schedule (the total is 702) allocated to outgrounds;  Chesterfield, Cheltenham and Scarborough still going, a place for county cricket set in public parks, at clubs as well as in public schools.  In 2013, the last summer before Chris Arnot published his book on  festivals the  figure was 81.

Not great,  although there has been an increase in one-day cup games this year, 20 plus played in August and at some new(er) grounds, such as  Kibworth and York. Something similar seems likely again next year and maybe some will take root, although the increase has mainly been the  counties staging The 100 moving games out, the the future which must be about as certain as the  scheduling is stable.

Surrey versus Middlesex women  at Guildford was a pleasant early season trip, and  List A women’s cricket, the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy, also had 20 plus days on outgrounds when The 100 was not on.  Hopefully venue-wise it will stay that way, the T20 competition is more concentrated on county grounds.

The other side of this is  the continuing disappearance of Championship fixtures,  not  everywhere,  Lancashire played home games at both Blackpool and Southport, but seven counties scheduled their 39 home days at just one ground. As  a counterbalance to the game’s centralising tendencies outgrounds are still on the scales, although it does look like the weights continue to move against.

Champions by Dave Allen

Dave Allen’s expertly produced pamphlet recalls  a season in which Hants quite unexpectedly became   Champions, all the more favourably remembered because of it. In the years that followed the county arguably became the buzz team: high expectations but impacted by the rain gods winner of only two more trophies by 1978. It was also the start of almost 20 years in which the county’s bowling was spearheaded first by Andy Roberts and then Malcolm Marshall.

The cricket of the 1973 season  had a rather different nature to it: brilliant openers, teamwork among the bowlers that included the slow left-arm of David O’Sullivan and Peter Sainsbury, backed-up by very good fielding. Personally, I got lucky seeing nine days during August, eight of them red-ball. It seems a lot now,  although in the sporting landscape of then domestic cricket was prominent in a way that is hard to imagine in 2023:  sports desk updates on the radio most weekdays in the summer months were racing results and county cricket scores.

The Dean Park pavilion in 1973  was  much as it was when Gary Sanford took his fine photo above years later, and sitting on the green benches to the left was certainly prime listening when an announcement was made on the (just visible) PA about becoming Champions during the Bournemouth week. The cowshed (white) building to the right, the press box,  and Desmond Lynam’s afternoon  radio show was one broadcast of this to a wider world, followed by a report  that evening on the main BBC news. In the days of three tv channels it was probably seen by several millions.

As for messages for 2023: outgrounds are a fine part of the landscape, wherever the Championship(s) are eventually  won. Unexpected triumphs flag  the virtues of competitive balance:  success, spread it.  Since 2000  nine counties have won the title and keeping it on the horizon of those that haven’t should be a priority,   perhaps with  Bazball energies towards the red-ball game it will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos from the Past II

A second set of photos taken from the world of county cricket over a six-week period in 1978. Some of them have appeared on this site or social media before, the best of the bunch individually are on the tab above, the ones here though hang together in their own way. There are all told seven ICC Hall of Fame of Players shown on the county circuit, one marker for just how different things were then.

The Oval, Roger Knight leading out the Surrey side  followed by the Hampshire openers Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge, later that afternoon Andy Roberts with both bat and ball. Top right at mid-on Intikhab, who over six years was Pakistan’s Test captain, an entertaining player to watch.  John Edrich in his final season, bottom right and the wicketkeeper is Cornishman Jack Richards.

Weston, grainy and a bit distant but Vic Marks bowling to  Mike  Taylor, identical twin Derek behind  Two photos giving some idea of the presence of  Viv Richards.  Bottom right concern for the welfare of Peter Roebuck, plainly in something of a daze; a picture with poignancy given his later career at Somerset, and the rest of his life, well-written about by Jon Hotten in his book The Meaning of Cricket.

Cheltenham, green and rather dark images from a game played during a wet-spell of weather. ‘Proctershire’, with Zaheer and Sadiq were a strong side, a contender for trophies, the two counties close rivals.

Bournemouth week; Warwickshire with, at the time, West Indian captain Alvin Kallicharran prominent. Top left shows David Brown bowling, Geoff Humpage keeping with David Rock batting. The pleasure for spectators of watching at the 5 o’clock hour.

Champions-elect Kent the second game, Derek Underwood bowling, Paul Downton behind the stumps with Asif fielding close. Credit the unseen, if not unknown, short-leg fielder in the pre-helmet era, still alive. A century from Trevor Jesty helped Hants to a win; a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1983, in another era he would very probably  have played more ODIs for England.

Outgrounds

The south-east map of f-c county cricket in 1971, 6 counties 24 grounds; across the game that year 74.  A different world half a century ago, but one in which cricket was accessible to folks from the sort of backgrounds the sport struggles to reach now, in many cases just doesn’t; the professional game being nowhere near them a part of it.

It being how things  were when first taking to cricket I have taste for outgrounds.  This season the counties play Championship fixtures at   seven of them, some places to feed the soul of traditional supporters still:   Chesterfield, Cheltenham and Scarborough going strong and Lancashire have games at both Blackpool and Southport on their schedule, but by comparison with 2019, the last full season before The 100, there has been a very noticeable drop from the 19  grounds used that year.

Au revoir then to Arundel, Colwyn Bay, Swansea, Tunbridge Wells, Liverpool among others as stages for the 4-day game?  Maybe so, certainly the payouts from The 100 don’t seem to be doing all that much to help the cause of outgrounds,  the opposite if anything. Not helping them to promote the long-form of the game, but not the shortest either: Blast games there were at Blackpool and Chesterfield and Middlesex, moving away from Lord’s, in 2023 played games at Merchant Taylors’ School and Radlett, but that’s it.

Perhaps county managers were or are anticipating reductions in the playing schedule or have developed likings for The 100, and become more centralised in their views. But whatever lies behind the decisions taken, outground cricket, at least in terms of the number of places played is increasingly the ODC; some discretionary decisions to take games away from the centres, some not.

The recent equity report on cricket made very little of the game’s geography, but the chance for kids of all ages to watch the pros and play on the outfield during the intervals is one of the game’s better customs, still practised by some counties and worthy of  spreading back to places that cricket seems to be leaving behind.

 

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.

 

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

UCAS.

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