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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling is the thing that happens in 1/1000th of a second by Christian Ryan

‘One of the most startlingly original cricket books ever published’, wrote Matthew Engel, so picking up this book came with high promise and certainly there are some brilliantly written lead-ins to the photography of Patrick Eager in 1975; writing to heighten the senses, framing images seemingly to the point of intimacy with those performing at the top of the game then.

There is a wonderful panoramic photograph of the  World Cup Final that year:  Lord’s, its setting, the occasion, a reminder of cricket played  in a  less commercial era and a .001 moment in which Viv Richards, then a prince rather than the king is about to run out Ian Chappell; arm pulled back with ball,  Clive Lloyd, the bowler, in position at the wicket, Rohan Kanhai pointing to the other end and both batsmen looking at him with good reason for thinking I might not make this.

During a decade when TV coverage was free, but second chances to see were not many and the original films often taped over, Patrick Eager’s photographs are a large part of the visual record of the game then. Among the other brilliant images in the book are the possibly familiar photo of D.K. Lillee and his follow-through; Phil Edmonds bowling his hat-trick ball to Doug Walters in the same Headingley test, five close fielders crouching but Tony Greig still towering above all and umpire Tom Spencer informing Jeff Thompson, arms stretched out with ‘gunbarrel zeal’ that he had, in fact, just delivered a no-ball.

Quite what is observation, what reaction  pops up in several places and is something Christian Ryan rather wonders about again at the end of the book. As he puts it at one point

….faces in a photograph are sometimes exactly what they seem, sometimes not at all what they seem, and the trick and the hitch is not knowing which is which, or when and this is a part or a lot of the intrigue of photographs.

What is insight, a reveal, what a more or less synthetic pose for publicity not always easy to classify and when does it matter anyway is a question not far behind.  There are action shots in the book which can be reasonably classed as one, but the boundary between action and portraits blurs. FWIW  in 1978 this one blogger took the snap below of a relaxed-looking Geoffrey Boycott during a county game at Southampton, the picture of a man apart rather but also of one in his element. Quite who he is smiling at is a bit of mystery at first glance, not the lady to his right who is looking up at him, but at someone or somewhere in the middle distance.

The attention of the boy in the front row has been distracted, quite possibly by the photo being taken, boundary to wicket distance, prompted as it happened by noticing a serious and not entirely happy looking Geoffrey B fielding with his hands in his pockets, in front of a pavilion well populated with visiting Yorkshire members. As a simple observation this one snap f for failure, although the self-conscious response, looking away from the camera, has since made for a-things-were-better-then picture for Fred Boycott’s twitter followers; an early season warmer for those watching Championship cricket in April, even if it was taken in August.

Patrick Eager understandably enough mentions that he hoped that moving camera position in anticipation of a wicket falling didn’t actually trigger the event; or in the generality of things the opposite, given an intent to record the what had the photographer been elsewhere. More of an issue then than now maybe; with the limits of 1970s technology, he also mentions that it was a case of shoot tight or lose focus, possibly miss the .001 moment that day; but as seen now a tight focus can come at the expense of something of the wider social setting, and with it, arguably less or perhaps just a different feeling.

In the 1970s crowds were allowed on the outfield during intervals at Southampton, as elsewhere, and it was usual to see some taking a closer look at the players coming back out. The difference between his photo of  two West Indians, Bruce Pairaudeau and Everton Weekes coming out in 1957 and that of the two Chappell brothers in 1975 near where the Boycott photo was taken is striking: the first as a teenager, with a teenager’s  ground level view, three policemen helping keep order, unremarked upon; the second as a professional, a bit further in-field, spectators blurred images, their presence something of a problem.

While it would be wrong to say that Patrick Eager didn’t do crowd scenes, you do have to go looking for them a little bit, even at patrickeager.com where some 13,000 of his images have been uploaded. One of the more evocative images in the book is that taken at Trent Bridge showing a time when teenage boys attended Test match cricket in twos and threes, interested enough in the game for it to hold the attention on summer days sat on the grass. It is the photograph of an era when the sport was widely played in schools.

Feeling is ….is no-one’s idea of a coffee table book and the photographs are to be sure better seen in Kindle than the print edition.  Christian Ryan’s narrative does a fine job weaving its way round the images with sharp observations of small details and well-informed comment;  it is an impressive book that for this one reader pretty much lived up to the high expectation that others put on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxing Times?

The start of a new season at Lord’s and through the North Gate to the bag security check and  body search, as ever courteously done. If 2019 is going to be anything like previous seasons, and it probably will be, those doing the searching and wishing a good day will usually be  young, not over-paid and given the nature of the work, somewhere else tomorrow. As we reach the end of a decade that began with ‘austerity’ and all in it together, earnings of £12,500 are allowed now for those with jobs, there the next day or not, before paying income tax.

Two members of the Sunday League generation headed to the Mound Stand; born in a favourable decade for buying a house, the blogger’s mate and  partner have recently cashed in their chips on their property. A boy from the north done pretty good over the years, lived at number 16 when  Andrew and Ruth Strauss were good neighbours; but middle England, Pitshanger not Park Lane. Taking capital gains for what they are, allowances and exemptions totted up before payments of tax on income for him something like three to four times that for those at the gate, but a modest multiple still by comparison with some who will be along later this summer.

Gross inequities to be sure, a lot, although by no means all, coming  from the cyclical up of house prices. We have been here before, three times as it happens in the case of the Sunday League generation. The last cycle ended in 2008, like its predecessors, 17 years after it started, time to regret, forget and do it again then; although this time round the wealth transfers to the nation’s (grand) parents have been much greater, helping keep up the numbers of Sky subscribers and making a day at the Test at £150 affordable.

Ten miles west lies Southall with a population made up very largely of those with a South Asian heritage, a local travel company supplies adverts between overs on Sky and if you were to listen to some, one place where cricket’s new audience is going to be found.  A decade ago the local authority counted the number of cricket pitches in public spaces there, found 13, 31 in the borough as whole (Ealing),  and  expected then a need for a further six.  Divide by two for the actual numbers last year.

It is not in the least bit difficult to connect the decline on the commons with tax breaks for those prospering . The journalist James Bloodworth in his piece ‘Is capitalism killing cricket?’ goes back to the 1980s to point to the beginnings of the current decline of the game, the long form particularly. Certainly the rise and rise of managerialism has been no friend of cricket in schools and the problems faced by those aiming for a generational  renewal of interest now, any format, should put them in a place where they get some space.

The muddle surrounding The 100 has left those who take an interest wondering why they should. Looked at from the outside in 2019 the ECB appears cast as the gambler late at night with losses to recover unwisely taking big risks. Those trying to connect, looking for cool, could do themselves a favour by binning the management speak and then take a lead from Gareth Southgate about being honest and to the point. The game will find its own waistcoat.

If there is to be an uptake that sustains, the international game still seems the more likely place for it. Twice in the last forty years cricket has come up big, individual brilliance rising from the depths and a moment seized after an opposing captain’s mistake. In both 1981 and 2005 cricket, a civilising sound of the English summer, arguably did something for those outside it:  Botham’s Ashes in a country with  3mn+ unemployed, and in 2005, when a war in the desert still rankled with many.  The open question now is whether the game could actually do it again?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Chart by Visualizer

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.

 

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