Test of Character by Andy Murtagh

Born in Superlative, blessed with stand out looks and given a moral compass, yet  Andy Murtagh’s warm-hearted biography of John Holder is also well-titled for a man who left Barbados for an English winter with no coat, just might have had his capacity to bowl fast coached out of him, and later, as Test Match umpire, declined a bribe and found that an attitude born out of straightforward honesty was an an attitude that didn’t fit.

John Holder has a first-class hat-trick to his name, took 13 wickets in a Championship match and stories from his playing days are fondly recalled by Andy Murtagh. The liking he feels towards his subject is very clear, although this part of the book also aches rather with the playing career that might have been.  As team-mate  Richard Lewis points out the key to bowling is the ability to repeat an action, from which rhythm and confidence, and while John Holder was seriously quick, attempts to rectify a problem with bowling no balls by changing his action from chest to side on proved problematic.

He left the Hants staff in 1972 without getting his county cap, but having been a presence in helping a young Gordon Greenidge mature, whose career at Southampton at one point survived by one vote. 15 years later with his playing career coming towards its end, John Holder was umpiring  him on the county circuit, his career as an official on the rise.  Promotion to Tests followed, England versus Sri Lanka in 1988  then Australia in 1989, a career that was going well until the end of the  series against the West Indies in 1991, the farewell of Viv Richards at The Oval. It turned out to be his last Test for a decade.

As to why, umpire Holder pointing out, reporting, ball tampering by England  unwelcome with an upcoming series against Pakistan is the context given. It is plausible enough as an explanation; reporting transgressions may, of course, have been unwelcome at other times as well, suggestive that  some of his colleagues  would simply have turned a blind eye as necessary.

And the experience of prejudice in his career? Episodes outside the game certainly,  also behind the decision-making that left him (very) disappointed after just doing his duty? Test of Character reasonably enough given the time horizon  does not try to probe the opaque processes of long ago, or the character, the mental suppleness, of those making the decisions, but it may have been a factor. Mistakes made with LB decisions in some games are given fair airing in the book, the explanation for him being dropped as a Test umpire seemingly not that, which leaves a man who was just ‘a bit too honest’.

More cheerfully there is fair recognition  that cricket gave black West Indians of his generation openings, three team-mates at Southampton at the start of the 1971 season, in an era when cricket was treated more as a game, and those involved felt that they were on to something that was a lot better than ‘real work’. A career in his case that lasted more than 40  years; an informed man about the laws of cricket, an educator, his ‘You Are the Umpire’ with Paul Trevillion, a success.  An attempt  to bribe him in Sharjah before an ODI fixture was recalled with something like disdain in interviews that have appeared on YouTube.

John Holder first appeared for Hants 2nds against Gloucester at Dean Park  in 1965, the scorecard a prompt about the large part luck plays in careers. Both Mike Procter and Barry Richards played for the visitors;  as did fellow umpire to be David Shepherd, ‘Shep’, remembered for hopping on to one leg when the score was 111, and for whom an MBE for services to cricket. And John Holder, for services to careers made with a good conscience? If presented with a re-run hopefully he would do it again.

The Sunday League

Darley Dale is a small commuter town just outside Matlock with a population of around 6,000, its cricket club dates back to the 1860s and plays today in  the Derbyshire County Cricket League Division 3  North. In the cricketing summer of 1975, remembered now as much as anything for the first World Cup, it  played host to a Sunday League match, the scorecard for which shows the home county with seven who played Test cricket and the visiting Hants side three of whom have since entered the ICC Hall of Fame. Unusually for the 70s there is a clip of film of the  game on YouTube.

The crowd was around 5,000, those of us who headed straight  into the Square and Compass pub afterwards fondly remember it, even if  Darley might  be seen now as a very small stage for such talented players, the world of cricket before Kerry Packer. Yet no question that the Sunday League did a more than decent job regenerating the game, fondly remembered because of it thanks to  the Beeb’s coverage and  to games played in places that kids could get  to. All told it  was played on 127 grounds.

The  Beeb’s cameras were at almost 50 of them:  in the first season at the Oval, Brian Johnston joining John Arlott and Jim Laker in the commentary box and the Oval, Landudno, where it was Richie Benaud. In the years that followed  games from other smaller places such as Lydney and Tring were broadcast, medium size conurbations such as  Bath and Maidstone and larger ones, Bradford and Portsmouth, among them.

Sundays being the way they were then cricket got a free run on the tv schedules until Sunday Grandstand came along in 1981, WCFs shared coverage with racing and tennis, the 40 over games not. There was a decade and more when FTA cricket was as much the domestic game as Test matches, although later squeezed and then mainly England  before Channel 4.

And the significance of all this for now?  The ECB has recently said the average age of a cricket supporter is 50, the game might have gone more commercial in the 21st century but it is still heavily dependent on those  who took to it in the era when it was FTA. Reducing the age difficult given how little the game is played in schools, and if the experience of the SL is anything to go by there probably needs to be a lot  of domestic cricket FTA for it to impact.

As for taking the game round the country, the Victorians with help from WG  managed it, the SL did something similar, so how good will those  in charge now turn out to be? In their high chatter this lockdown there has been some recognition that The 100 is not really all that much about attracting a new, younger, audience; a certain realism which seems  like one step in the right direction. Step two, play more games on outgrounds? Hopefully they will get onto that sooner rather than later.

 

Numbers compiled from Cricket Archive, the Radio Times listings  from the BBC’s Genome Project.

The Unforgiven by Ashley Gray

The 2013 film on the West Indian cricketers who toured apartheid -era South Africa, Branded a Rebel, has an interview with the then SACU president Joe Pamensky  in which he  remarks  the  tourists were ‘made an offer they couldn’t refuse’. Clive Lloyd is interviewed and mentions that he could have made himself a rich man, but put his principles first. The consequences for three players who went are brought into view: an unwell David Murray,  Collis King, from whom words of defiance and the independent-minded Franklyn Stephenson, who makes the argument that mercenaries are paid to fight other peoples’ wars, that what t(he)y did was to give white spectators at matches an education through cricket.

Ashley Gray’s impressive book The Unforgiven certainly adds a lot to what this one reader knew about this. He attempted to speak to all those who went- 19 players and in most cases he succeeded -and the book is all the more readable for the candour, the straight way in which the character portraits are drawn and weaved into context. It is no simple morality tale.

There are those who didn’t go but might have done, flight tickets were bought for Desmond Haynes and Malcolm Marshall. There is plenty of believable comment on the rivalries between those competing for a Test place: the importance of individual relationships with Clive Lloyd and Sir  Frank Walcott  in the whys some didn’t make the Test side, or didn’t think they were going to, and went. And the social pressures involved: in the case of Everton Mattis, talented, but without it seems the necessary  graces at the dinner table, given advice to get a haircut.

As for the Franklyn Stephenson take on things the strength of West Indian cricketers in England in the decades from the 70s on  certainly impacted a generation of predominantly white supporters of the game.  Black cricketers walked out to polite, at times reverential, applause, Cyrille Regis ran out to be greeted with bananas incoming playing for West Bromich Albion. So did the rebels have at least some influence on the small white minority in bringing change to South Africa or the management post apartheid?

Maybe they did, it’s a more plausible suggestion with the benefit of hindsight although it is also questionable how much moral force there is in it. The general feeling from reading The Unforgiven  is that for several of them given the decision again they wouldn’t have gone, almost 40 years later Lawrence Rowe forgiven to an extent, but not elevated  in terms of social esteem.

And the messages for 2020?  In England there is the what ought to be an unsettling  question about how much involvement, interest there is in the game by and among black people.  Perhaps at some point the remaining numbers in the table below will be made public, but in the commercial era of the ECB it is the south Asian communities that have been described as ‘the holy grail’ by those who see franchise fortunes on the horizon. It is a direction of travel that might leave some wondering  how serious the game’s establishment really is about its expressed support for black lives?

Ethnicity Cricket Supporters % E&W Population%
White British 82.0 80.5
Asian 7.5
Black 3.3
Mixed 2.2
White Other 4.4
Other 2.0

ECB figure on cricket supporters. Census (2011) for England and Wales population.

 

The T20 Blast

Harsha Bhogle’s fair minded preface to Cricket 2.0 makes the point that the T20 revolution will carry its ageing parents, others with a preference for the red-ball game, for a while yet. Good  for those of us who appreciate the game in England’s green and pleasant outgrounds, but also what to make of The Blast given the shift to a city-based game in other parts of the world?

Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde’s impressively detailed book makes little direct reference to it, beyond its place as the original among T20 competitions. The IPL is, of course, the big centre to the story in Cricket 2.0 and while it would be an exaggeration to say there is no team in the(ir) world view of T20, much of the attention is on its stars; player auctions and the energies of capitalism a good thing for cricketers, particularly those born outside ‘the big three’.

Yet in a changing  cricket world the merits of the mother Blast actually stack up pretty well. England’s domestic T20, in its various guises, has expanded from 48 matches when it started to the current number of 133, an historic structure, but an adaptable one, and given that the IPL has ‘lost’ five franchises out of 13 in the last decade, to date at least, an existentially stable one.

Nor is there any shortage of stats that point to how competitively well-balanced it is. Since 2003 most counties have a win % of 50+/-5, most of the trophy winners have been one of the smaller, non-TMG, and the split between those who are and aren’t getting to finals day near even. The Blast does sporting merit so to speak; relatively equal central distributions to the 18 counties and a salary cap, broadly speaking, working well.

So what’s the problem? A lack of star quality, that the future direction of global sport  is cities not countries? Cricket 2.0 brackets The IPL with US sport, sense in a continental context which is how the (mainly US) scholars whose ideas were an influence in its development conceived of things. In Europe, the Champions League in football is on a scale to fit this framing; cricket, rugby in England not so much, if at all.

And The 100,  better and there for a new audience? It will be ‘heavily reliant’ on the existing one to make it a success said Tom Harrison last month, ‘not about that ultimately’ (.. a new audience) commented Michael Atherton recently, who went on to suggest that its creation is about the ECB owning something that it can exploit.  So mother Blast futures to be offloaded and (failable) franchises the new black? At some point, maybe.

All rather unfortunate given that  cricket does need to attract newcomers.  The decline in  recent times can in large part be traced back to the  unpopular decision to end FTA coverage in 2005, taken, in 2020 parlance,  to ‘flatten the (revenue)  curve’; flattened interest in the game as well, of course, but a difficult decision for those who had to take it, faced otherwise with a drop of 30% or more of TV monies.

Chart by Visualizer

But no question that it is also fair warning about the size of the risks going from one TV contract to another, and in 2020-4  almost entirely putting money before exposure. Who needs peak risk, when  there were  obvious messages from the WCF last year about how cricket becomes the subject of bus stop conversations?

Background details on the stats page.

Vintage Summer & The Meaning of Cricket

John Arlott’s gentle nostalgia for the pleasures of a postwar summer strikes something of a chord now for those of us wondering, at least a little bit, what cricket, normal life, will feel like as and when it returns. Quite what a generation who had come through six years of war were  feeling as they watched cricket again  is  something known by those who were there; but in other respects Vintage Summer relates a  season with a rhythm largely familiar to those when the book was published twenty years later.

Much of it is a comforting, happy,  narration which starts with the South African tourists at Worcester. A five test series, won by England, and a 26 game county Championship won by Middlesex followed, with Dennis  Compton and Bill Edrich dominant. Arlott saw cricket almost every day that summer, which he described as the happiest of his life, reaching its finale at the Oval bar in September; from which the book’s epilogue:

‘We had known and felt the untrammelled delight of cricket and, if we could not define it  – and who has ever been able to do so with precision?  – we knew it the more surely for our realisation that it was too richly complex for analysis.’

Something of this sentiment  comes across in Jon Hotten’s book, albeit that his appreciation of the game, the wonder of it, comes from knowing how hard it is, rather than anything especially dreamy or poetic. It is a lively read, largely post the Arlott-era; the author’s  playing experiences, which advanced to the point of a trial net with Hampshire, a starting point for his understanding of the stresses faced by the game’s pros. A take on the inside if not an insider’s take.

Mark Ramprakash finding ‘redemption’ in 100 first class centuries, the difficulties faced by Graham Hick in adjusting to Test Match cricket, bowlers with yips, flag up how  brutal it can be psychologically for those who are, or who become, anxious and then rather ambivalent about their career trajectory heading downwards.

This is not always an easy read, although it is not difficult to sympathise with those experiencing personal agonies . More happily there are of course the careers that went the other way after difficult starts. Graham Gooch bagged a pair in his first Test, was dropped after his second and might have been dropped again, quite possibly ending his England career. At the end of a series in which he struggled Ian Bell made no runs in the epic Ashes finale in 2005: eight balls in the match, one on the last day with England aiming to bat out time.

In analytical,  micro-managed times, the book prompts well on what part talent what part chance, luck, plays in careers, and brings to mind Richie Benaud’s 10-90 ratio. There is a lot else in it, a primer on the game’s early development, amateurs, humour in various places:  a key bowling machine carried round in the back of a horse box en route to an Ashes series win. Those for whom Arlott was a formative influence in taking to cricket were lucky to be sure; and from one who did a stint on the May’s Bounty scoreboard, 330/7 at the close.

 

 

 

 

ECB Directors & The 100

The boardroom practice of  existing directors nominating new ones is open to the criticism that it can create a  merry-go-round  for those involved,  detached from the people in whose interests they are supposed to direct. In the case of the ECB,  county reps  (39 of its 41 members are counties) have  been done away with in the name of board independence, being able to make decisions for ‘the good of the game’.

A count of directorships held by those  on its board shows that Scott Smith, the CFO, leads the way with a total of 10. Apart from his involvement with the National Archery Society he is  the  director of

London Spirt (The Hundred) Ltd Welsh Fire (The Hundred) Ltd
Oval Invincibles Ltd Manchester Originals Ltd
Trent Rockets Ltd Southern Brave Ltd
Birmingham Phoenix Ltd Northern Superchargers Ltd

As independent as that;  if it looks like a rather strange arrangement that is because it is and comes from the ECB being the owner as well as the governing body for The 100. Common or some form of collective ownership has its advantages and is one thing, a common owner of two teams competing in professional sport is another thing entirely.  It is prohibited in football in this country, point number one in the FA’s Owners and Directors Test (of those who are ‘fit and proper’). In rugby it has in the past also been blocked by the RFU.

The rule is there to help keep things honest, promote sporting integrity. Roman Abramovich (reportedly) might have taken over Tottenham Hotspur FC, did take over Chelsea but is prevented from owning both clubs: if he did would the matches between the two  actually be straight and seen as such? Some individuals might find themselves unusually well-placed to profit in ‘prediction markets’ in the event of confusion over the issue.

So does the ECB have a future giving space to a sporting Rick’s  in which its compliance staff will be ‘shocked, shocked to find  that gambling has been going on’? As a matter of external scrutiny when it gave evidence to parliamentarians last year the ownership of The 100 was barely mentioned. The 8 teams were mistakenly referred to as franchises by one MP,  an understandable confusion maybe given the distance that many personally feel from the way the game is run. Two days later the ECB put the detail of London Spirit Ltd and the others on the public record.

Something to keep quiet about? The ECB has set itself up as the sole shareholder of the 8  companies  and it wouldn’t be very surprising if they were turned into franchises at some point, if The 100 lasts. In the last decade cricket’s governing body used to describe itself as a conduit for the game as a whole; on the evidence given to the DCMS it seems ever more like Sky’s conduit, with big decisions about the financing and integrity of the game taken by a very small number of individuals and in whose interest is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DCMS, the ECB and Statistics

Before the  statistics it should be mentioned that the ECB does have some good things to say in 2019, the World Cup Final in the eyes of many has been the sporting highlight of the year. When its board members gave  evidence to a DCMS inquiry into the game’s future last month there was talk of  growing the game in schools, and women’s cricket was prominent in a way that it wasn’t during the last inquiry held after the ending of FTA coverage in 2005.

But on to The 100 and the ECB’s intention to attract newcomers to watch games. As for the evidence it gave on those who watch now: an average age of 50, “a 77% male bias and a 82% bias towards White British”; although of what these figures were based on, no mention. By comparison, in the world beyond the people of England and Wales were 51% female, 81% white Brits at the last census.

Nationally, the (median) average age is around 40, cricket spectators are older, but the game is not alone in having a mature audience; different numbers, but much the same sentiment in relation to football in the relatively recent past. This is not particularly surprising given the way much sport is funded, paywall TV, and the big economic changes  which have helped more mature types keep paying and keep interested. But no questioning that the game has a generational problem, arguably its biggest problem.

As to the disproportionate number of men who watch the game: if this, as it reasonably might be, is taken as evidence for wanting to encourage more women to attend, why would the basically proportionate number of white Brits be referred to in terms of bias?  Cricket, on the ECB’s own evidence, has been doing ok overall in attracting a diverse audience; three formats of the game enough.

So what’s the problem? A governing body with a CEO who simply doesn’t understand or who doesn’t (want to) believe his own statistics? To be sure England and Wales is changing in the direction of greater numbers of those who make-up the minorities. It could be fairly pointed out that the last census numbers (2011) are rather old,  the question now being how much change has there been since.

But also to the point here is just how different  the ‘cricketing heritages’ are of the minorities in a global world: just how much difference in interest in the game of cricket there is likely to be between, say, those who were born in the People’s Republic of China living here now, those with an Indian heritage and  those who have migrated from Poland more recently.

But  not much doubting the intention of those at the ECB who see the The 100 as “an awfully big opportunity…..to get  diverse and urban communities turning up in their droves”. Re-profiling the ethnicity of the game’s spectators may not get very far: The 100 may simply attract those who watch or would have watched the Blast, the stats that the ECB gave to the DCMS select committee could in any case be (many) a mile off.  But given what they say they know, it is an adverse comment on the governing body of a national game that they would try in the first place.

 

 

 

 

County Umpires

It was a straight one pitching outside the line that did not deviate is a chirp on  leg-before decisions heard every now and again during the cricket season. In the case of  Scott lbw Mahmood 26 during the Middlesex v Lancashire ODC game last summer,  ironic laughter could be heard in the Sky commentary box as viewers were shown the replay, before some understanding, faux or otherwise,  was expressed for the lot of the umpire. Two months later to a cheering nation England’s cricketers were given 6 at the end of the World Cup Final, when, as we now know, it should have been 5.

If a certain ambivalence re wanting the right decision is normal among supporters,  at the umpiring end with the benefit of the doubt given to the batsmen, out decisions when not still seem to be viewed more critically. For the fielding team then the incentive to appeal, loud and appearing sure, is not lessened any by a default of sorts against them.

As a first-up general impression county cricket seems fairly respectful of its umpires and their decisions; at least during the 15 days this one spectator watched, still so. But no question that the players’ body language, facial expressions come with  varying degrees of subtlety and, if much of it is aimed at each other, there are occasions when things get a bit raw.

Whether for example, Sam Curran  in the Surrey-Kent game below had just feathered one and is standing his ground, getting away with it, or the appealing collective for Kent, who were getting on top in the game, were just frustrated from overdoing it, later in the over the non-striker Dean Elgar was given out lb in what was a rather uncomfortable looking adjudication.

Uncomfortable because the umpire  was, in fact, right both times, even if the fielders had  convinced themselves otherwise, managing the energies, perceptions not easy? Or that he was in fact mistaken twice, or just the first time or just the second,  perceptions to manage just depending? Given the frequency with which players appeal, it is not news that some overs  go better than others for the umpires and while doubtless there were  handshakes at the end of the match, as there are, the game is not rugby, at least not exactly.

So if cricket has its ‘Unbelievable Jeff’ moments who would be an umpire? Over on planet football an ex-Premier League referee giving a presentation  in pre-VAR days suggested there were those who did it for the good of the game, those who would have been players, being on the  pitch much of the appeal of it, and those with certain liking for dispensing law and order: saints, frustrated pros and nature’s traffic wardens so to speak.

While  umpiring comes with some traffic management it has in the past been  done by former players, as it very much was in 2019:  almost all of the umpiring done by those who had played the county game and about a third of it by those who have played international cricket.

Numbers on the individuals are downloadable on the stats page, but it is striking how much the game is dependent on officials that cover all three formats: umpires Bailey and Saggers below stood in more than 30 fixtures last summer as did 11 of their colleagues and in overall terms umpires tend to umpire more than the players play. In 2019 there was a pool of 33, comparable to the playing staff of a large county: umpires umpiring  numbered over 700 over the course of the season,  players playing for a county considerably less. The day of the specialist umpire may yet follow a game dividing, although not all that much sign of it just yet.

Sceptics  of The 100 have some good reasons to not believe, to which add the layer of additional stress of a 4th competition  on those who adjudicate. ‘They have come to see me bat, not you bowl’  WG Grace is said to have said, a line that has made it to the game’s present; with the chief administrator of the ECB having declared its new competition to already be a success, good luck to those minded to give Ben Stokes out lb first-ball, whether it pitched outside the line, or for that matter whether it clearly didn’t.

August Cricket Week

Hampshire versus Kent, 26th-29th August 1978, Bournemouth. Surrey versus Hampshire 18-21st  August 2019,  The Oval.

When John Arlott retired in 1980 he wrote of his abiding nostalgia for the county cricket circuit which had anchored much of his career, cricketers as members of a travelling circus going round the country in the summer months, the game’s greats on board.  Something from another world now,  but in the summer of 1978 it was a strong  Kent team, that included ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood, that came for the second half of the Bournemouth week. On the point of becoming County Champions they bumped into Gordon  Greenidge  going through a great purple patch:  five centuries and a fifty (in the SL game below) in seven innings; two of them enabling the home side  to win with relative ease, (umpires) Cowley and Jesty at the crease.

 

The photo of Trevor Jesty  from behind looks a bit odd now, although given a camera at just one end  with TV coverage  at the time, not especially then.  In another media age, Radio 2 did hourly sports desks in the afternoon which fed the game’s chatter, with the  second reading of the cricket scoreboard at 7.30; a holy of sorts for some, it was often delivered with a certain gravitas if memory serves.

As for those doing the chatter  players then perambulated around grounds and talked to members and spectators. This blog takes its name from those who watched  from one end of Dean Park in those years: prominent the then chair of CAMRA, real ale and communism,  ‘W.G.’, who having trialled the world of work for a fortnight in the 1950s had  decided against continuing with it, those too young to have made that decision; those that weren’t and hadn’t and one who remembered matches from the 1930s. Easy days spent watching cricket: part sanctuary, part speakers’ corner, and a comment on those with the patience to follow  the  game and the tolerances of each other that watching fostered.

The  Oval in 2019 is  a decent place to take in the pleasures of a Monday morning at the cricket, hearth  from its history and strangely, or maybe not all, the Vauxhall End has its ‘sightscreen committee’, independent-minded  comments and recollections as standard. Perhaps there is a parallel universe somewhere with many sightscreen committees, the game there might be the better for it , but in this one it should be mentioned the ‘People’s Home’ also benefits from its flag-bearers for the county game in the Peter May stand.

 

The course of the Surrey-Hants fixture  was reset  by a big innings of considerable maturity from Ollie Pope, enough to generate interest on the last afternoon despite the fact that, in the end, only 22 wickets fell over four days. The 12 men of Hants (one concussion sub) resisting the 13 of Surrey (two England call-ups) with an innings of promise from Felix Organ  leading their rearguard. As the game reached its conclusion Ben Foakes again showed the lightening speed of his reactions (and anticipation) and credit, of course, to those who field at short-leg

When the game was expanding in the direction of more limited-overs cricket  in decades past there were mature types then who, understandably, did not give thanks for having their memories, understanding, of the game disrupted.  Sentiments that get passed across the generations maybe; but had England won the World Cup in 1979 no-one then would have been bonkers enough to promptly  downgrade the Gillette Cup, and  when England did win the Ashes in 1981, the County Championship was respected in  ways that it just isn’t now.  Much  centralisation of decision-making  since has left the game’s governing body appearing as confused as it is self-interested.

 

 

 

 

 

The Counties and ECB Payments

With cricket as with other team sports there are good reasons to  pool the monies that come into the game. In football the Premier League distributes £ sums in nine figures to individual clubs allowing for example,  AFC Bournemouth and Newcastle United, with their respective histories, to compete against each other.

The MCC library holds records of prize and other monies being shared in domestic cricket since before the time of the TCCB in the 1960s. While the numbers then had five digits fewer than in the top tier of English football now, in the more commercial ECB era the amounts paid out to the individual counties come in £mn and have over the last decade, broadly speaking, been pretty equal. Taken together with the game’s salary cap it gives the smaller counties a chance in the three formats of the game.

The fundamentals of this notwithstanding, the sentiment that a small number of seniors sitting on a bench are not enough to keep the county game afloat has been around for decades; and, of course, around for  those decades have been the first-class counties;  in the time since the snap was taken at Portsmouth in the 1970s  Durham added to their number.

But a mistake to think that there couldn’t be existential issues with the county game, that  domestic cricket doesn’t have a problem with excesses that come from the top. The problematic legacy of  rebuilt TMGs to accommodate  international matches has prompted suggestions by some that The 100 will make, or otherwise just cement, the establishment of  ‘8 super counties’, with not so much, if anything, of a future for the others.

Looking at their respective financial sizes the differences between the scale of operations between the TMGs is very apparent, perhaps more striking than the differences between the TMG counties and those that aren’t. Surrey, something of an outlier with its Oval Events £ generator, is approximately the same size as  Lancashire and Warwickshire put together. There is then another sizeable drop down to Yorkshire: who if not a financial minnow exactly before the rebuild of Headingley,  was then comparable to Derbyshire,  since when in the  financial legal table  it has moved up to bracket with the now  ex-challenger TMGs.

The Cricketer magazine last year had an editorial suggesting that the domestic game was almost £200mn in debt and that the new ECB competition  was ‘a diligently researched, meticulous attempt to eradicate it’.  So is ‘one-half’, or more,  of The 100 really a rather underexposed debt relief scheme?

Trawling through the accounts of the 18 counties for 2017  and allowing something for the ECB reserves held then gives a figure of somewhere around £125-30mn. Quite a lot less debt to eradicate  than might have been thought, maybe; much of it, of course, held by the TMGs, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire with debts £20mn+. So is much of what lies behind, and in front, of The 100  ‘a small country’ re-exporting  problems  from over-expansion back to a much larger one?

Failure, as the saying goes, is an orphan, but to be sure the disorder from too many TMGs has a lengthy history and could reasonably be traced back to three businessmen and a Rose Bowl; the county of the Hambledon club going in search of prestige, and parking, in the 1980s. The game’s finances might well have been easier to manage since had they gone up the river in a boat.

But the problems of excess are a tale of many other decisions as well plainly.  In 2004  the offer from Channel 4 to continue with FTA coverage of Test cricket during 2006-9 was less good than the then existing contract; a message from the past that the  value of TV rights can go down as well as up to say nothing of the consequences  when they do.

The  decision to (almost) max out on £  over exposure from 2020, comes with a big, if not huge, downside risk  given that the world and the  value of TV rights may very well change again by 2023.  In a game that needs to find some sense of balance the sooner it reverses out of The 100 the more likely it is to find it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A blog about English cricket