Category Archives: County Cricket

County Memberships 2019

Do county members get a decent return for their subs? With the 2019 season ahead members paying the adult rate now could be spending anything between £175 at Trent Bridge  and £309 at Taunton, although there are discounts for seniors, joint members and other categories available to varying extents.  County-by-county numbers are downloadable from the stats page.

39 days  (CC, the group stages for RL and Blast) watching Glamorgan  was available for £142 for those who paid up by February this year and joint memberships at Nottingham for £252, on the face of it, are not expensive for those who get to, say, 10-15 days over the course of a season. The numbers a comment, perhaps, on what the market will bear, membership totals at Cardiff have been in the 2,000’s for much of the last decade, and at Trent Bridge on its general financial stability. If the unit of measure for watching cricket live in England this summer is the cost of a day at the (Lord’s) Test, county memberships, in most cases, are less than a day for two.

For those of us counting in £ the average cost is close to £240, as to how much cricket comes with it the criticism that the Championship has been shunted into the sidings and played in April and September has been addressed in 2019, maybe at least partly in response to The Cricketer’s Blueprint last August. The number of days scheduled  mid-May to mid-August is around twice what it was last year and is now back to somewhere closer to the norm in the decade after 2005.

Good news for those who are able to watch during the week but not  especially for those who aren’t: CC days scheduled for the weekend in 2019 will, despite the  tweaking by some counties of the original schedule issued by the ECB, fall overall from 129 to 88.  If you can’t or don’t make the early season Championship weekends in April, much play to follow on Saturday or Sunday through the summer there is not.

In short, the 2019 schedule might prompt thoughts that the ECB  has a certain tendency to rather ‘forget’ members and spectators in the domestic game. CC and 50-over cricket during the week for a mature audience, hospitality and a night-out for those at T20 games for those in their middle years, but not so many days in the season when some might transit from a shorter format to a longer one, or occasional attenders or newcomers find it easy to go.

Whether there is a sealant of sorts actually being applied  to the county game via its fixture list, or not, overall about 1 Blast match in 4 will be played at the weekend starting at young junior plus mum friendly times.  In 2019 Worcestershire are playing 4  home T20 fixtures on Sunday afternoons, if other counties went back to something closer to the old Sunday League scheduling for their home games, the Blast, and the county game as a whole, might have more of a future than is sometimes now suggested.

 

 

 

A Dividing Game?

The afternoon of the 2018 Royal London  final was spent chatting to a players’ agent, an enthusiast for the ECB’s new competition amidst the game’s traditional audience, he made the point that for some of the players he worked with it might be a chance  to something like double their earnings from playing the game.

A polite conversation ended with agreement that cricket needs to attract more younger spectators than were present that day. ‘The 100’ is billed as the route to this end and for its duration large incentives to focus on the white-ball game seem to be coming the way of many players, in a sport with small numbers at the top on central contracts well remunerated, the great majority of professionals a great deal less so.

As to the effect on the playing base for Test cricket this brings us to the extent to which the game has already divided into those who specialise in one format or another. In the 2018 English season there were  450+  players who appeared at least once for their county; of these,  around 300 appeared in the Blast, one marker for the numbers who might conceivably think of themselves as possibles for the new competition, and of these, around 80% (230+) also played some Championship cricket.

FC List A T20
Did not play at all 77 (34) 172 (101) 152(111)
Only played 85(60) 3(3) 52(18)

England-qualified in brackets.

As a marker this is, of course, open to the comment that those who played more often, those who performances keep them in and around their side over a season, may in many cases be more of a possible, if not a probable. The Worcestershire team, for example, that won the 2018 Blast had four players who were ever-present, and some 90% or so of the names on their team sheets during the competition were occupied by 12 players.  These are not numbers to surprise particularly, around 90% of the places in the Surrey Championship winning side were occupied by 14 players, and the graphic below shows that player counts for the game as a whole were not very dis-similar.

The players’ appearance numbers are lined up in increasing order, Joe Root’s  for example (3 Championship matches, 1 T20) put him centre-left, those for Joe Denly (14 and 13) put him at the right hand end. T20 cricket is  concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of players than is the case in the first-class game, and if ‘the 90%ers’ were taken as a another marker for ECB competition possibles,  then the number drops to just under 230. Around two-thirds of these players were also ‘90%ers’ in their Championship sides.

‘The 90%ers’ T20 FC FC, who play T20
Total 229 271 146
England-Qualified 153 203 107
England-Qualified aged under 26 60 85 42

In short, taking a broad brush for some sense of the overall picture, while some specialisation there be, and not all of it short-term overseas hires by any means, in 2018 there were more T20 cricketers who were also Championship players; amongst the England qualified they numbered about a half of the Championship ‘regulars’. The question prompted by this is what is going to be done to solidify the careers of those  who see themselves as red-ball cricketers?

 

Data on appearances compiled  from Cricket Archive, nationalities taken from Cricinfo. The second table is based on rankings by county.

 

The Championship Schedule

The Championship has made a welcome re-appearance in the last month after its ‘break for the summer’ and if comments about its sidelining are not exactly new, the point being made has become more a lot more pointed. In 2016 almost exactly a half of the competition was scheduled towards the middle of the summer, since when through a combination of reducing the number of games to 14 and other changes to the fixture list this has declined half-way to not all. The obvious general question here is where is all this heading?

As to the wait between games at the 18 county grounds the longest gaps are not surprisingly at counties that do  cricket festivals on outgrounds, although not all those that play at outgrounds have  particularly long intervals at their main ground. But the impact of  taking the game away from the middle of the English summer in the last couple of years is plainly a general one and for most resulted in a gap of something like two months in 2018.

The CC ‘Summer Break’, no of Days 2018 (2016)

Headingley 127 (63) Chester-le-Street 61 (47)
The Oval 96 (39) Derby 61 (50)
Bristol 77  (89) Leicester 56 (34)
Hove 75 (38) Northampton 56 (39)
Lord’s 68  (35) Southampton 56 (31)
Edgbaston 67  (31) Cardiff 51 (61)
Taunton 67  (39) Canterbury 41 (44)
Old Trafford 64 (50) Trent Bridge 41 (32)
Chelmsford 61 (31) Worcester 40 (37)

 

If rhythm in the cricket season comes from continuity and at least some regularity in the fixture list it has gone missing in the Championship scheduling and there are other variations that from the spectating end of things are difficult to fathom. The six rounds of matches in the first part of the season are played across the weekend, the four rounds of matches in September when the competition reaches its climax, are played during the week.  Matches in 2018 started on all seven days  of the week; those that began two days after the August bank holiday had a scheduled Saturday finish when domestic football was a rival attraction and the following week finished on a Friday when football was on an international break.

In a world of  free streaming and Beeb radio commentary  at some point this might very well risk an exodus of members, the game’s bedrock joining the Chief National Selector in seeing the Championship as an I-pad experience. The August issue of The Cricketer magazine included a piece from its editor making the case for more red-ball cricket mid-summer, central it might be thought to the competition retaining its strategic importance in the game; although with the ECB pushing on with The Hundred and some county voices responding to it by arguing the case for an expanded Blast, the problem for the appreciators of the game’s long-form is evidently a fundamental one.

It is a long way from  obvious that there are enough figures in the cricket establishment with incentives to stabilise the place of red-ball game. George Dobell wrote a piece this summer on the presence of a Cricket Supporters’ Association, a body to give the game’s supporters more of a voice. FWIW, almost 20 years ago this one blogger had some involvement with the setting up of football’s Supporters’ Direct, from which a fairly clear message that there are issues that ‘burn’ (existential ones at many football clubs then) and attract support, and there are good intentions about governance changes, the election of supporters’ reps to boards, which are often the long-road. The tensions within the game being the way they are the need for a campaign for red-ball cricket looks real enough.

 

 

 

Data sourced from Cricket Archive.

 

 

 

 

County Cricket and its Outgrounds

Chris Arnot’s book is a gentle nostalgia for county cricket past, times fondly remembered in pleasant  and sometimes beautiful settings, places where supporters were close the game and its players. Quite what constitutes a cricket festival is given some leeway by the author,  but there are over 50 grounds recalled and he understandably concludes with the wish that the game’s festivals do not become an extinct species.

Certainly some of the nostalgia  comes from remembering when those at the very top of the game played on club and school grounds; and also  on municipal grounds as well at times, such  as Clarence Park in Weston photographed here in 1978, a venue where player facilities while not unusual for public parks then could now be euphemistically described as limited. In a very different world forty years ago, the game’s best players were paid salaries for the season that were not a long way north of what a new graduate could then expect.

The 1970s was a rather turbulent decade to end the relatively egalitarian post WWII era in  Britain, although cricket arguably did a  decent job of adapting to change with the then shorter forms of the  game. The Sunday League was to a considerable extent played on outgrounds, 100 in all, as the game renewed itself by going local,  sometimes very local;  in the middle of the decade the competition was won by a Hants team with three ICC Hall of Fame cricketers at Darley (pop 5,000).

In the decades that followed the middle classes politically re-asserted their interests and cricket festivals saw growing numbers of corporate hospitality tents, that were later to become permanent boxes as the county game centralised, contracting the number of places where it was played. In a changing economy some company grounds were no longer used and with the advent of  4-day cricket, the historic festivals at Weston-super-Mare, Bath, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Eastbourne, Hastings, Folkestone, Maidstone, Ilford and Southend departed from the cricketing calendar. The festivals of the middle-classes, together with those of ‘Essex Man’, what went with them was the counties doing their bit for club cricket at those grounds and returning spectators giving in some cases decades long support to the game.

As to what this might tell anyone about the prospects for outground cricket in the future, in 2018 festivals there still are at  Arundel, Cheltenham, Guildford and Scarborough, and, if not necessarily named as such, 4-day games are on the calendar at Chesterfield, Colwyn Bay, Swansea, Southport and Tunbridge Wells as well. Most counties continue to play at least some cricket on outgrounds.

In the  August issue of The Cricketer the magazine’s editor makes the case for a more even distribution of the Championship games across the summer, something for the hearts and minds of the game’s  traditional supporters, although he does also make it clear that priorities in ECB fixture scheduling  are international cricket, the Blast, then other competitions.

If, as may well be, the amount of county cricket that is played in 2020 is reduced to some degree, it being a matter of which format(s), but that the financial distributions from the ECB to the counties are increased, then the extent to which outgrounds are used looks like a fairly open question. If the view that more Championship cricket should be played in July and August does prevail, it should at least maintain, if not extend, the number of 4-day games, albeit that  it might squeeze the number of limited overs fixtures.

The game of cricket is evidently caught between the centralising tendencies of the ECB and the counties, who still do something to spread the professional game around the country. This points to a fundamental problem, even if much of the public debate this summer has been over the merits or otherwise of a yet to be tried format for the game.  The county game has in the past done very similar competitions at the same time,  30 balls to make a point of  difference rather than 20, and in 1981, almost entirely forgotten now, 7 a side 10 over cricket was tried at football grounds.  It didn’t work then, although T10 cricket, 2 hour games, might well in the future.

On the long view county outgrounds are a marker of sorts, cast now as something of a counterweight to the game’s globally minded elites, who appear determined to introduce a competition in which they will regulate the integrity levels of the teams they will create, own and manage. Chris Arnot at the end of his book points to the continuing success of cricket at  Scarborough and the need for individual festivals to pay their way; to which amen, although coming at this more generally prompts the question could the game of cricket really afford  to not continue with its festivals?

 

 

 

 

 

The Counties and their Finances III

Gloucestershire, Somerset and Worcestershire

In a recent interview with The Times, Colin Graves repeated his view that he wants to see a thriving 18-county system, mentioning that the proposed new competition from 2020 would  mean an additional £1.3mn  for each county, with a minimum of £3.5mn per year. The ECB’s accounts for the last year refer to  ‘significantly increased’ broadcast revenues from 2020 and however much that might actually turn out to be in £mn, it will be enough, according to those at the top of the game, to future-proof the county circuit as well as fund the new competition. 

 

It is not too difficult to see why the sums mentioned might sway a majority, if not all, of the game’s business minds. All three counties here are substantially funded by the ECB revenues that are shared out across the game; for Worcestershire, for example, over 60% of its income in the last decade has come from ECB funds.

Pooling revenues has a long history in cricket (as with other sport) on the grounds that it makes for more competitive matches, and whether the county game is viewed in its own right, or simply as a proving ground for Test cricket, or something of both, the general rationale for this is solid enough.

What this leaves open is quite how much? Over most of the ECB era the total amounts distributed to the counties from the centre have, broadly speaking, flat-lined and the experience of the three here plainly fits into this overall pattern. The amounts in £mn shared out to the individual counties, though not equal, are quite similar.

A large jump in the minimum raises the question why it would make the  counties here more sustainable? In 2016 they had (loan) debts in the region of £3-£5m, made interest payments of the order of 3-5% of their income, and generally have had salary spends on cricketers that has allowed them to compete with the county teams from the major TMGs.

The combination of relatively equal shares from the ECB pool, and centrally controlled playing spends has, it could be said, been on the side of the smaller counties from a sustainability point of view. Where large extra revenues might go, if large extra revenues there  be, given that all are recipients, is fundamental and also problematic.

The (2016) membership totals in the chart below are also striking, particularly at Taunton where the numbers are greater than at Cardiff,  Edgbaston and Old Trafford. The similarity between those for Worcestershire and Warwickshire is also noticeable. As a % of their respective county populations, Somerset are ahead of the TMGs, way ahead of three of them.

Also apparent is the variation between the TMGs,  about twice the numbers at Trent Bridge, where historically membership has risen, as there are at Edgbaston. There has been a decline and in recent years recovery at Headingley, and a more or less unchecked historical decline at Old Trafford, since numbers of nearly 14,000 in 1997. As for sustaining a new audience, playing at venues where there is experience of keeping an existing one might be thought helpful.

By comparison with football, which in the past certainly had its problems in the aftermath of the collapse of the ITV-Digital contract, but where most of the time this century the revenue numbers from TV have been heading north,  it is arguable that cricket has had a more difficult, maybe much more difficult, time over the years.

The much criticised decision to take Test cricket behind a paywall after 2005 was justified by the ECB by the need to maintain its revenues. Channel 4, it seems fair to say, were not in a position to repeat its previous  contract, and the decision to ‘take the money’  has at least produced a time when  the distributions to the counties have been sustained; which is not to diminish the problems from the decision.

When aiming for sustainability the question that comes with a good  contract is what happens if it is then followed by a less good one?The general, systemic, risk to the smaller and mid-size counties, but really the county game as a whole, from big increases in central funding from 2020 is to whom would the ECB and the game turn, if there was a decline in 2024?

 

 

 

 

 

The Counties and their Finances II

Lancashire,  Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire

The March issue of The Cricketer  has a strongly worded editorial comment in favour of a city-based 2020 ‘future’, and while to be sure the editor was clearly thinking  in terms of the then expected t20 format, the editorial line was no need for fear, only winners here; before going on to mention that the domestic game is almost £200mn in debt and that the new competition from the ECB is a ‘diligently researched, meticulously constructed attempt to eradicate it’.

Both sides of the argument in relation to the proposed 2020 competition face what is a divide of sorts, if not a fault line, between the counties with international grounds in the cities and the other counties; the  legacy of redeveloping and upgrading venues one side, the risks of marginalising, if not extinguishing, part(s) of the county game on the other.

Yet, when it comes to their financial size, and the debts that are being carried, the differences between the TMG counties, with Surrey at one end of the spectrum, are often greater than the differences between them and the others. In terms of revenues, the four counties over the horizon covered by the chart, for instance,  vary from Lancashire (£258mn) to Yorkshire  (£118mn) with Warwickshire (£183mn) and Nottinghamshire (£153mn).

When TV coverage of Test cricket went commercial after 1998, Channel 4 latterly offered a contract that was so favourable to the game that it was unable to repeat it and the ECB, prioritising (centralised) revenues, traded away FTA coverage; with  risks for the  finances of individual counties passed on from the diminished visibility of the game and in the case of the TMGs, dealing with the effects of having to bid and pay staging fees to hold international cricket.

It is no surprise that the revenues from the middle of the last decade became more variable,  with the  particular years in which Test cricket was staged or not obviously important for the individual grounds. Edgbaston and Trent Bridge both staging four Ashes Tests after 2001, Headingley and Old Trafford two, creating predictable local peaks; as the for the troughs in the case of Old Trafford 2012 was a year of major rebuild, the ground that re-opened a year later, ‘a venue for the 21st century’.

There are, of course, other specifics, which impact the revenue figures, one of which being membership numbers; at Old Trafford, for example, there were  more than 13,000 members at the turn of the century, a number that had declined  to the order 5,000 by 2016, while at Trent Bridge numbers of 5,000 in 2000 have since risen by around 50%. Differences of this sort are not obviously attributable to matters of TV coverage; variations in costs and fixture scheduling, the management of member facilities would seem likely, among other things, maybe.

In a way the revenue figures are also an observation on the argument put forward by some club officials at times that the business in the cricket business is simply there to support the cricket. Centrally set limits have meant that the differences between the counties’ expenditures on their playing staff have been relatively small: the financial records over the last decade show spends by Lancashire of £26mn, by Yorkshire £24mn; the  amounts of support from business involved in putting out a team of  cricketers seemingly varying by a factor of up to two among the counties here, between 2007-16  about £1 in 6 of the revenues at Old Trafford went on paying their county players, at Headingley, about £3 in 10.

As to the debts being carried, the second chart shows the growth in the loan finance by the four counties; numbers that have risen in the last decade with ground developments at Edgbaston, where loans rose from £20K to £20mn between 2008-11 and at Old Trafford, where they rose from £3mn to £18mn during those years and where the numbers have been projected to keep rising, as they have been at Headingley, reportedly up to £40mn with the development of the football stand. As things stand something like a half of the debt in English cricket is carried by three counties, with loan finance at Trent Bridge  having peaked at the end of the last decade since when it has halved approximately.

How much of a problem is this really? Much of  the growth in debt finance in the last decade has an orthodox (and not unreasonable) justification that the cost of the ground rebuilds be paid for on a generational horizon.  Developments aimed at eradicating debts on a shorter horizon come up against the standard (and as far as it goes not unreasonable) objection that they are likely to be either ineffective, for some if old debts are paid off new ones be acquired, or un-necessary, for others manageable debts simply remain that way.

Debts from trading losses are another story and there is a something like common sense takeaway from the first chart that more stability would be a good thing, greater certainty about major match allocations for longer horizons a help and avoiding unnecessary risk-taking, it does seem reasonable to think, likewise; such as a new competition for new spectators where they simply may not exist in noticeable numbers  in one, or several, of the proposed locations for holding it.

Broadly speaking an era of commercialisation, with the centralisation of revenues and arguably more managerial influence throughout the game, has resulted in more debt. There is no obvious outward sign that this is set to change, rather that the 100 ball cricket now proposed from 2020 is the continuation of the same, at least in terms of managerial influence;  which raises the question whether the rising debt levels are reversible without, among other changes, there being larger budgetary spends on the game’s players?

 

 

 

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.

Data summary county by county on the Stats page, extracted from Cricket Archive.

The Counties and their Finances I

Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Essex

Graeme Wright’s  book is a lively account of the issues attracting the attention of the game’s business minds at the beginning of the decade, some of which have certainly moved on, some of which equally certainly remain, hardy annuals as it were.  The difficulties caused by the bidding war for major matches and the resultant indebtedness of some of the TMG’s, now recognised,  a fixture list seemingly giving little rhythm to the cricket season, still,  and criticism of an over-powerful bureaucratic governing body then, for better or not a new ECB constitution in 2018.

The language of dependence  tends to permeate the references to the smaller counties, downstream from decisions, resistant to the proposed  city-type T20 competition at the end of the last decade and, in the view of some,  leaving the modernisation of the game a  decade and more behind rugby union. What future for county cricket now, with a city-based T20 game on the horizon from 2020,  its Championship watched by the proverbial three men and a dog and calls from prominent figures to reduce the amount of 4-day cricket that is played?

Financial  numbers tell us something about the county game and the revenues of the four counties above in the time of Sky TV are in the chart; the numbers for  Kent, Somerset and Worcester not very different to Derby, Leics and Northants  in 2016, those for Gloucester closer to Essex, Sussex a bit higher.  Once the effects of general inflation have been allowed for, the revenues of the four have, broadly speaking, flatlined, the effects of taking TV coverage behind a pay wall not helping with the general awareness of the game or, it seems reasonable to think,  membership numbers or ticket sales.

In the peculiar, peculiar in the sense of being unusual, economics of team sport, revenue sharing is something that gives smaller clubs a chance to compete, an aid to the overall competitive balance of the competitions that are played. The extent of this varies between sports, although for smaller clubs, their share of pooled funding is, of course, a larger % of their revenues.

Scaling the financial numbers in cricket up by factor of around  30, Leicester City FC, a relatively small PL club, were around 75% financed from TV monies in the year they were champions; in rugby union where the numbers are closer to those in cricket, Northampton Saints, for example, a not so small rugby club, receive about 30% of their funds from Premiership Rugby and the RFU.

When free market economics meets English cricket it could therefore be expected to be on the side of the smaller counties. Cricket has a long history of pooling monies from Test cricket that dates back to the time of the TCCB, and before: in the  Sky era  ECB monies have been of the order of 40-50% of the total revenues for Essex, Northants do not disclose £mn figures, but  have referred to ‘well in excess of 50%’ in their accounts. The % for Derby and Leics are in the chart. 

 

The revenues that the ECB generate are, in large part, derived from Test cricket and concentrating the revenues coming into the game via TV contracts has concentrated the financing for the red ball game. For individual counties more revenue may be generated by T20 ticket sales and the associated hospitality than comes from member subs from those more interested in 4 day cricket, but taking ECB monies with other revenues together the picture of what it is that finances the county game is more mixed.

Whether overall the long form of the game has been used to support the development of T20 cricket by the counties in the last decade or so is moot: but whatever answer be given,  a county Championship that is in large part financed to support the development of the England Test team needs sensible fixture scheduling among other things.

In the 2018 season ahead  county cricket overall will still make some sense economically, Derbyshire and 17 others doing what they are financed to do. Whether from 2020, when the cities are seeking a new audience for the T20 game, more 4-day cricket should be played by the counties at a time and in conditions they often don’t play in now, is another question again, and one that deserves to get an airing.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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.