Andrew Hignell argues that in an urban world cricket in England should move from its county-based structure to a city-based one, that this change is long overdue, that the game needs to connect with the places people identify with in 2020. An intellectual justification for The 100, or a competition something like it, wasn’t particularly sought in buying this publication from the ACS but it wasn’t any less of a good read for that, so, how persuasive is he?
The first ‘proper’ County Championship is dated to 1895; contested by 14, eight of whom played at one ground. From this for much of the 20th century the game, its geography, expanded to the point that by 1963 the then 17 counties played 32 3-day fixtures, most of them staged on outgrounds. One-day cricket changed some of the dots on the map, over the years the Sunday League greatly increased their number, and by the time this one blogger had snapped Sir Viv Richards playing at Weston in 1978, the number of grounds used that summer was as it had been in 1963, 72 in all. Overall an era for the game when its geographic reach gave justification for its county structure: boundaries that accommodated civic rivalries, rival supporters from other sports.
Andrew Hignell then traces the geographic concentration of games in the decades since, wickets prepared to ECB standards and facilities developed to accommodate business interests at county grounds, the importance of gate revenues and member subs declining. A game heading upmarket. The open question that this leaves is the extent to which county supporters now are folks living in the urban areas of those grounds. Are the crowds at T20 games locals, or not, just a more mobile generation than when the Sunday League came to their (grand)parents?
The argument in Cricketscapes drives this to a logical conclusion if it is, or you think it is, mainly the first, then name domestic cricket accordingly, Canterbury v Taunton and so on. To the question what’s in a name Andrew Hignell suggests rather a lot, and sitting above Brighton, Southampton and the others in his future are the eight city-based ECB teams with ‘names that can be seen on road signs plus an urban identity’: Welsh Fire, Birmingham Phoenix, Manchester Originals, Northern Superchargers, Trent Rockets, London Spirit, Oval Invincibles and Southern Brave.
This all struck this one reader as exchanging one set of compromises, county names, for another; teams in the The 100 with urban names are not a majority and as the author points out forcefully in another context in one the association for the non-cricket going public is very much that of a tube station. As for how much names matter, for those heading to the cricket for a social occasion a moot point; although not especially surprising was the comment from Surrey’s CEO that a quarter of the early ticket sales for The 100 were at the Oval, bought by those from much the same demographic as T20 goers.
The 100 is seemingly set to mean a big increase in the amount of white ball cricket at eight grounds, from 50+ to around 90 games, or if counting those played ‘between the eight’ from 20+ to around 60. Financially it’s risky, something that Cricketscapes seems to skirt around, suggesting rather that the game can ease its way into a brave new world, county rebrands or not. He is though surely right to point to the role of social media connecting folks to the game in its various forms, and may be the export market for The 100 will justify its existence, or turn it into a hit, and help fund domestic cricket.
But maybe not, the financial expansion of the game in the ECB era has been a bumpy experience: Channel 4’s departure from covering England, they were losing money on it, lead to 14 years behind a paywall, the stresses of expanding TMGs from 6 to 9 also problematic; a game left with an ageing support base and experiencing over-supply problems.
So is The 100 going to be just more over-supply? Some differences of opinion about it may be partly down to different world views: in the decades since Viv Richards was playing on public parks, economically the pendulum has swung a long way from those at the bottom, in the middle towards those at the top and imo a push back would not be before time. But this is not really to doubt the risk those pushing with the pendulum in cricket are taking.
Cricketscapes, part of the Cricket Witness series from the ACS, is a glossy, which was not expected. It has 20+ (black and white) photos from the game’s past, of interest although social media has raised the standard when it comes to cricket’s landscapes. What it gave this reader was a thoughtful, alternative point of view, something which can be hard to find on social media, and for that, credit to its author.