5/20/2018 0 Comments
By Bob Bowden (@54Bobb)
In recent years it has become customary for a group of lifelong friends, most now recently retired to have a few days away watching Essex, preferably in a four-day county game. We try to avoid rattling around in one of the Test venues and hope the fixture list is kind. This year it was a toss-up between Worcester and Taunton. Worcester won out, despite the risks of it being an early May fixture and the possibility we would have to at some point man the lifeboats.
So what did eight old grumpy gits make of Worcester? Happily, the ground is only a 5-minute stroll from Worcester Foregate Street rail station, and cross the Severn at Bridge Street. And for those planning to stay for the duration the newly opened Premier Inn is situated literally in the ground. It is entirely possible if you are allocated a ground side one to watch the cricket from the comfort of your hotel room. The hotel bar and restaurant also overlook the ground, although the club seem to have wised up fairly quickly. Apparently, a concert was held in the ground, whereupon punters swarmed the bar and watched it from there for nothing. A screen has now been erected to prevent the same happening for the cricket.
The hotel position is mightily handy for the cricket of course, a 30-second stroll out the hotel and into the ground. It does, however, give the Blackfinch New Road ground (as we must now call it) a somewhat lopsided air. It’s now a curious, if still pleasing mix of the old and new. Presumably as part of the deal to sell off the land to build the Premier Inn, adjoining it is a new reception area that also serves as the only ‘turnstiles’ to the ground, offices, and restaurant/bar. There is some limited seating in this new block, which I understood to be called ‘The View’.
Turn left and there are several small blocks of seating that run in front of and beyond the hotel. From here you look across to the main pavilion, a modern affair named after Graeme Hick. Between sits the main scoreboard. To the other side is what one assumes is the old, now slightly dilapidated original pavilion, known as the Ladies Pavilion. Not quite sure what the ladies make of that but I have it on good authority they still serve cakes there at tea. Cast your eyes round to the left and there are hospitality marquees, a tree-filled space which is home I was assured to the black pear tree which are of course featured on the club’s badge. Apparently, black pears aren’t much use for eating but you can make nice chutney with them. Free culinary tip - you’re welcome. Continuing our journey left sits the Basil D’Oliveira Stand, much of which was draped in black and houses the television gantry boxes.
Now, if you’d care to swivel your eyeballs to the right from ‘The View’ sits the New Road Stand, which may, or may not date from around 1900. Atop this charming old relic sit rooms that serve as hospitality boxes with what appear to be small patio areas. Just beyond and next to the main pavilion is Foley’s restaurant (named I think after the founding family of the club) which one of our group assured us served a varied menu including a very reasonably priced and gargantuan full English.
If all the above makes the Blackfinch New Road ground sound a bit of a mish-mash, then I make no apologies for that. It is, and it is all the better for it. Sit in front of the hotel and you have a tree-lined vista and old world cricket architecture in view, from the Pavilion end the new hotel has not blocked out the magnificent view across the River Severn and Worcester Cathedral. The ground is small, quirky and feels a quintessential county ground. Our group of old curmudgeons liked it, very much. Long may it continue.
Ah, but what about the cricket you ask? Essex, off the back of the embarrassing defeat against Yorkshire needed to bounce back. Who better than Worcestershire, a side bottom of the table without a win, what could possibly go wrong? In the end nothing, but there were enough twists and turns over the three days to remind us why we love the county championship and why Colin Graves and his merry band of marketing men should be…well you know.
Essex won the toss, and the first eyebrow-raising moment of the trip was their decision to bat first. It surprised us, and it also shocked the local sages who were of a collective view that Ryan Ten Doeschate had dislodged a few marbles. Post-match, Ryan pretty much agreed with that view saying he thought the wicket looked very dry and was a 350 run pitch and manna from heaven for Simon Harmer in the fourth innings. It had somehow slipped his mind that three weeks previously the ground was under several feet of water and there was a fair bit of moisture still lurking.
Under slightly overcast condition Essex plodded to lunch reaching 64-2. Chopra departed early and Tom Westley scratched around looking for his post-England mojo before he too departed without troubling the scorers very much. Cook and Lawrence, however, looked serene. Post lunch, however, was not a pretty sight. Eight wickets went down in the afternoon session for 113 runs with the home side’s Josh Tongue bowling very well and finishing with 4-45. It could have been even worse without a wag of the Essex tail from Harmer and Siddle who scored 51 runs between them. Not a 350 wicket then, merely a paltry 177. Bad light curtailed the first day 13 overs early but not before the home openers, Mitchell and D’Oliveira reached 47 without loss.
Our band of not so merry men decided some post play refreshment was in order and were recommended a hostelry not a five-minute stroll across the bridge. And what a discovery this gem of a pub was. Take it from me; if you want a proper old school boozer with fine ales, this tiny oasis is the place to go. Which we did, frequently. Oh, it’s called The Plough by the way.
And, so to day two. It’s fair to say that Worcester supporters are, at the moment, feeling a little gloomy about their team. A couple of decent batters, a couple of decent young bowlers and a promising ‘keeper but not much else seems to be the general consensus. The club is it seems in significant debt, so there’s not a lot of cash available for investment. This may also explain why the sightscreens are possibly the worst I’ve ever seen and can’t be of much help to batsmen. One is a large, tatty and rather grubby sheet draped off the top of the new reception block, secured by bits of string to various bits and piece, and when there’s a touch of wind prone to billowing around like a mainsail on a galleon. At the opposite end, the sightscreen consisted of similar material draped over seating. This was fine until the sun came round mid-afternoon and threw a large black shadow off the blacked out D’Oliveira stand right across it. Seriously, guys, you need to do something about it. Ironically, the school behind the ground had proper sightscreens.
Anyway, day two. Essex winkled the home side out 238, with Joe Clarke scoring an excellent hundred, with solid support from openers Mitchell and D’Oliveira. Beyond these three none of the remaining seven batsmen managed double figures. Still, a 61 lead seemed handy, and by close Essex were 143-4. Cook and Chopra almost wiped out the deficit before Essex contrived to lose their three top-order batsmen all shouldering arms. An overnight lead of 82 with only six wickets in hand certainly was the subject of healthy debate as we again repaired to The Plough to blow froth off our beers.
Day three, and the morning was bright and sunny. While we continued to wonder whether Dave’s exotically and unpronounceable beer the previous night tasted of Bovril crisps or bananas, the locals were downcast in their view of the day ahead. “If Essex get 200 lead, we’re done for.” Much nodding assent ensued. Interesting we thought. Dan Lawrence added a patient 62 to his overnight score of 9, and with support from Foster and Harmer Essex were finally dismissed for 275.
Worcester, with a day and a half left in the game required 215 for their first victory of the season. “We’re done for.” Said the cheery bloke behind me again. And, as it turned out he was right. The Pears having got to 160-5 had got themselves into a decent position, the locals had almost broken into a wave of mild optimism. Travis Head had got to a half-century. Barnard had been providing decent support, but it became clear Harmer was increasingly bamboozling him. He concluded that his best chance was to sweep Harmer, conventionally or reverse it didn’t matter. On each occasion, he swiped and missed, and despite consistent advice from the home faithful to resist, he cocked a deaf ‘un, and was bowled round his legs.
Siddle, on his farewell game for Essex was bowling beautifully from the other end, too quick for the lower order batsmen who twitched and groped relentlessly as another ball whizzed past the outside edge. It was not going to be a long stay of execution, however. Essex had Worcester at 173-8, with the last two men in, both we were gloomily assured were rabbits. Somehow they need to keep Head on strike to have a sniff. Essex decided to test the mettle by offering the rabbit an easy single at the end of each over to keep them on strike. Remarkably, they obliged on every occasion. Travis Head meanwhile, far from managing the situation seemed either resigned to his fate or had more faith in his partners’ abilities than anyone else in the ground. With nine down, Head decided attack was the only form of defence and promptly holed out. Worcester had lost their last five wickets for 22 runs, 182 all out. “Bloody told yer.” said the bloke behind. Harmer and Siddle both took five wickets, a nice way for the Aussie to sign off. We decided we should go to the Plough to celebrate.
So, if you are thinking of going to Worcester do so. Nice enough town, tremendous pub, lovely old cricket ground, and just as importantly in all that the locals were as friendly and welcoming a bunch as you could find. Apart from the woman in the Indian restaurant with more tattoos than a boatload of pirates. Some cabaret she was, although I don’t think the management had booked her.
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
When the series started it looked brutally one-sided. In the 1st Test Australia were all over South Africa and looked set to win comfortably, as they had done in the previous series in South Africa. The change in the 2nd Test though was as big as it was unexpected. What set off the change was a series of controversial incidents, including on and off-field confrontations between players and then between players and crowd. As the series heated-up, the crowd became more and more hostile and suddenly the Australian team discovered that getting it back is nothing like as enjoyable as handing it out without fear of reprisal and have increasingly lost focus.
Over the years the Australian team has based much of its success on the idea that visiting teams should be abused as much as possible on and off the field. This has included the request from Darren Lehmann for the public to target Stuart Broad and to make his life hell. While, of course, neither coach nor players can control barracking and abuse from the crowd, nor such tactics as setting off the fire alarm in the visiting team’s hotel during the night, or waking players with early morning telephone calls requesting radio interviews, nor have they done anything to condemn such behaviour. They regard it as part of the hospitality service to be offered to visiting teams, while crude, on-field, personal abuse is regarded as necessary to play the game in the right spirit.
When Darren Lehmann said that the abuse that his players were receiving had “crossed the line” there was a certain irony to his comments given what many players have received from Australian players and crowds without censure. As one broadcaster and writer on the English game pointed out, “the line” seemed to be positioned wherever was most convenient for Australian interests at any given time.
What this series – and others – has shown is that when a side refuses to be intimidated by Australian aggression and starts to give it back, the Australians lose focus and can disintegrate themselves.
However, do we really want world cricket to turn into a contest to see which set of players and its fans can be most yobbish? England can smirk, but they themselves have been involved in some distasteful incidents in the past.
There are many alarming aspects of the latest incident. All sides push the limits when they can. All sides resort, at least occasionally, to tactics that are dubious or are gamesmanship. And all sides do like their home support to give them a hand. And, of course, it is different when they are on the receiving end rather than handing it out. Not all sides though sit down and have an open, tour management discussion on how best to cheat when things are not working on the field. And yes, it was cheating when other sides have done it and it is cheating when Australia do it too.
There are still many aspects of what happened that are unclear. Surely neither Cameron Bancroft nor the captain seriously believed that no camera would pick up their attempts to rough-up the ball. How believable is the story that it was some dirty sticky tape that had been used on the ball? Plenty of people watching the images saw something that looked much more like sandpaper, which would surely be far more effective anyway than some dirty sticky tape. Have the players actually come clean even now? How much did Darren Lehmann know and have to do with the plan?
As in the case of Watergate, the original crime was not such a bad one – the umpires did not even change the ball, considering that its state had not been altered – but the clumsy and incompetent cover-up made it infinitely worse. Bancroft’s comic attempts to hide the evidence and willingness to lie to the umpires when challenged, made things far worse than if he had come straight out and confessed. The intention was to damage the ball, even if the execution owed more to Monty Python than to Professor James Moriaty. And, of course, a video has come to light of Cameron Bancroft apparently doing something underhand in the dressing room during the Ashes series, meaning that he is now marked with previous.
As a Gloucestershire supporter, I am very glad that Mr Bancroft will not be representing my county this summer and I know that other Gloucestershire fans feel the same. The fall-out is only starting. Bancroft has signed with Somerset, who have put out a statement to the effect that the decision on his contract is under review. Certainly, if Bancroft were to come to Somerset, his reputation would precede him and would be a major on and off-field distraction. Bancroft’s position in the Australian side is far from secure (despite runs in this Test, his average is hovering just over 30 after 8 Tests) – hence perhaps his willingness to play along – and it would be easy to drop him on the pretext of not scoring enough runs.
There are loud calls for Steve Smith to be stripped of the captaincy. Probity as captain of your national team is important: Mike Atherton got away with it, probably because he had a reputation as a decent person and captain who had made a bad mistake, but Keith Fletcher, Mike Gatting and Andrew Flintoff, quite rightly, did not and Ian Botham’s off-field antics ensured that he was never given a second chance. However, there are rumours that Cricket Australia are so horrified by the negative publicity generated by the whole affair and the fact that it was so pre-meditated, that they are considering life bans for Smith and Warner. As a legendary South African captain of the end of the 20th Century found out: you cheat, you get caught, you face the consequences. Not too many Boards are willing to overlook such matters in the face of public opinion.
In the English language, the word “cheat” or an accusation of cheating has huge emotional consequences and the word has been used a lot to describe what happened. In the infamous Shakoor Rana incident with Mike Gatting the trigger was the umpire observing Gatting move a fielder behind square, where the batsman could not see the change, stopping play (no “dead ball” call though) and, telling Gatting that he was a cheat (the English version) or, in the umpire’s version, “you are making unfair play”. The word “cheat” inflaming passions to the point that Gatting snapped.
If Smith and Warner do go, it will be a massive blow to the Australian side, but would be a huge PR coup, showing that after all, Australians do want to win by fair means and not foul. It also remains to be seen if Darren Lehmann can ride out this storm: his position would become very difficult.
The remainder of the South African tour is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, anyway. How do you recover from an issue of this kind? And let us not forget that Australia tour England this summer for an ODI series and that Smith and Warner (and conceivably, Bancroft) would form part of that touring squad.
Last Monday 26th June 2017 another piece of cricket history was made with the first round of the pink ball Day/Night County Championship matches, with play scheduled to start at 2pm and finishing at 9pm (with a cut off time of 10pm).
There were two main reasons why the ECB wanted to introduce these pink ball day/night County Championship matches:
I am a longstanding member of Essex CCC and the following is my experience and thoughts after attending Essex v Middlesex at Chelmsford.
Typical of the English summer the previous week had seen unbroken sunshine, blue skies and temperatures of 30C+ in Essex, however by the time of this game the weather was changing and becoming unsettled. The first day was played in reasonable weather, however the temperature dropped significantly in the evening, which may be the reason for some spectators leaving at the beginning of the last session.
With the game being played at the end of June, this meant a late sunset, so the floodlights only took effect during the last hour of play. During the period where the natural light fades and the floodlights begin to take effect, it was difficult for spectators to follow the pink ball, especially when a boundary shot was played along the ground across the outfield, in fact there were several occasions that I thought the fielder had prevented the boundary.
Although the Essex opening attack of Jamie Porter and Mohammed Amir (making his debut for Essex) looked dangerous the theory that the pink ball would swing during the evening sessions did not materialise and indeed the Essex spinner Simon Harmer was the danger man taking 5 wickets for 77 runs in the Middlesex first innings, with the visitors dismissed 246.
It was a good first day county championship crowd (with crowds up by around 25 to 30% from the previous home game against Warwickshire with the attendance reported at 2,200). However it was disappointing that the additional early evening after work spectators did not materialise, although it was encouraging to see more 20 to 30 year old spectators amongst the crowd (but unfortunately very few school children).
As mentioned the weather forecast was for an unsettled and cool week and despite best efforts play was abandoned on the second day at 6.50pm due to steady rain.
The third days play started on time with the floodlights on, under grey skies with drizzle in the air. It was also cold (only around 12 degrees in the evening), not exactly conducive to watching cricket, hence the smallish crowd. Amazingly we had a full day’s play (with 104 overs, to make up some lost time from the previous day). Essex enjoyed a dominant day with the bat as Alastair Cook and Nick Browne shared a record opening stand of 373 (beating the previous Essex record of 316 set in 1994) and this was followed by an entertaining quick century by Varun Chopra, putting Essex in a commanding position. This raised an interesting and surprising statistic that Cook has never scored a first-class double century for Essex, his highest score being 195 and making 193 on this occasion.
The fourth days play started with the usual rules in terms of when lunch and tea were to be taken and a minimum of 16 overs in the last hour with play finishing at 9pm. The weather was again overcast, although brighter and warmer. It was a very reasonable last day County Championship crowd, which was probably to do with a potential win for Essex and it was good to see some early evening after work spectators come into the ground with the attendance being around 1,200!
We were treated to some compelling and exciting cricket during the last session of play. Once Compton had been removed for a heroic potential match saving innings of a 120, Middlesex proceeded to collapse losing their last five wickets for ten runs, losing the match by an innings and 34 runs. Thanks largely to an unbelievable bowling performance by spinner Simon Harmer taking 9 wickets for 95 runs during the Middlesex second innings, plus some bold tactics by ‘Tendo’ the Essex captain. The Essex victory was achieved at around 8.57pm just about three minutes from close of play!
Following the game it was mooted that the pink ball becomes softer but did offer more bounce for the spin bowlers.
I consider the success (or failure) of pink ball day/night county championship matches to be inconclusive. I would like to see another round of games played next season, completed later in the summer and during the school holidays, firstly to ensure a proper day/night scenario and hopefully school children will come along. I also would like to see the county clubs encourage more spectators to come along by including some additional features such as BBQ food, live music during the intervals and youngsters taking part in All Stars cricket during the intervals plus some freebies for the youngsters from the ECB etc.
Of course good weather is essential to the success and enjoyment to any watching and playing any game of cricket. There is, as we all know, no guarantee of that in an English summer!
Written by Kevin Watts (Essex CCC Member)
The question occupying the minds of county followers, as we travel into a new season of the Royal London One-Day cup, is whether or not the dumbing down of 50-over domestic cricket, and its confinement to the margins of the summer, will foster an environment where the format is allowed to reach fever pitch. More and more these days, in an age where the mindset of fans has quite evidently shifted in favour of high-octane run chases and off-field theatrics, 50-over cricket is being led off the edge of a cliff by those who wish it no longer existed. Each summer, now spring it appears, domestic one-day cricket makes administrators sweat and keeps them awake long into the night. They are aware that it is no longer the zeitgeist, nor is it the style of cricket that will have the fan, overfed by the intoxicating taste of t20 cricket, on their knees begging for more. And so, profit margins take a hit. The ECB, money orientated as they are, cross their fingers, say a prayer, and hope that the losses incurred by the friendless 50-over format will not cause irreparable damage to their hip pocket.
While one-day domestic cricket is now dependent on the shortest form for its very survival, it is also the one sending it towards a premature death. It has been forced to take up residence in spring not because it is undergoing a rebirth, but because its little brother is experiencing a growth spurt that demands more time and space to run its course. This process requires greater parental attention from the ECB, the by-product of which so often leads to the neglect of the sibling who was once the centre of attention. But times change. Media mogul Kerry Packer brought the gift of limited overs cricket, white balls, coloured clothing and floodlit matches into the world, and these are now the very ingredients that have laid the foundations for a new empire, with some minor tweaks. If the English clone of the Big Bash does indeed grow to the levels that the ECB expects of it, and the Royal London One-Day cup is all that is left as a lesser, black and white style alternative to colour television, we may witness the kind of slow degradation of 50-over cricket that has seen it become somewhat redundant down-under.
In Australia, domestic one-day cricket has been stripped back to its bare essentials and is firmly entrenched in the shadow of t20 cricket, which continues to increase its coverage, extending as it is now beyond the realms of four-day cricket. It too has been forced to take place while the other major sporting codes are in full throttle, leaving it little to feed off both financially and logistically. It is hiding away from the major television stations on a channel formed to show cheaply produced overseas entertainment programs is a sign of its worth to both the viewer and CA. Rarely is it played at international venues either. That became an unnecessary expense some four years ago, around the same time CA decided it was best that the ODC be played in a block so to not detract from the main event.
The ODC was given a shiny new exterior in 2010 to bring it into line with cricket's new era. At this stage, the competition was still spread across the summer, giving it exposure to the informed cricket fanatic and the novice looking for a live sport to fill the off-season void. The innings of both sides were split into segments of 20 and 25 overs, effectively giving the spectator two t20 games to enjoy. This concept would fail to catch on though and was in part responsible for the woes Australia faced later that year at the Cricket World Cup, where they only narrowly avoided the humiliation of missing out on a quarter-finals berth. CA responded swiftly the following year, returning the domestic one-day competition to its original setup. But with interest in the fifty over format outside of international cricket on the wane, and the new Big Bash League featuring eight new city-based teams proving a hit with fans, the ODC was reformed for the third time in as many years. At the renegotiating of the television rights in 2013, it was agreed between the broadcaster and CA that the number of games played during the competition would be reduced, most likely to cut costs and that it would also be played across a two and a half week period during October. In this moment, the ODC was given an expiry date and funeral plans were arranged. Now the future seems bleak.
The signs are all there that the Royal London One-Day cup is heading down this hazardous road. Already it has been pruned to 8 matches per side and starved of the summer's limelight. One can only wonder how on earth it will manage to squeeze in amongst the wall-to-wall t20 action that will take place when the circus begins in 2020; a year that will see two tournaments run in close proximity to each other. As supporters of county cricket, this should come as a major disappointment. The one-day final at Lord's is a part of the fabric of county cricket. Yet we stand a chance to lose this history if the shortest format is allowed to spread like wildfire, without control and destroying everything in its wake. T20 cricket is a necessary 'evil' in England because it is falling behind the other countries and missing the gravy train. Every sport has its limit though; the point at which the race is extended from an 800-metre sprint to a 5-kilometre marathon, tiring the fans and maybe even losing a few along the way. Cricket in the 21st century is about balance. Without it, the game is a meaningless progression of franchise tournament to bilateral test series. 50-over and four-day cricket give the game character at all levels. The shortest format is simply a rich uncle giving out $100 dollar handouts at Christmas time to supplement the mediocre income of a struggling relative, allowing them to stand on their own two feet.
It's a shame these circumstances have come about because innings like Van der Merwe's on Saturday need to be seen and celebrated more than they currently are. Only the one-day format allows a run-chase to ebb and flow in the same fashion as Somerset's did. There is simply no time in t20 cricket to recover from 5-22, and twenty overs will seldom see a batsman walking in at number seven score an unbeaten 165. Chances are we'll see something just as remarkable in the weeks leading up to the Lord's final. The question is, who will care to remember these occasions when t20 cricket jazzes things up and becomes the measuring stick by which every performance is judged? Certainly not the new cricketing audience that travels for the undercard and misses the main bout. They are preoccupied with the novelties of t20 cricket and the gung-ho approach to game-play that makes it far more palatable. But they are also essential to the growth and development of the game at all levels, and administrators hope that they can be converted to fans of the other formats as easily as they were brought into the game. That is little consolation though for the one-day game at domestic level, which is currently on life support and is most likely to be the first casualty in this bitter war between the institutionalised and cricket's own hippie movement. T20, it seems, comes at a cost. Whether that be a high-profile player walking away from their national side to join the globetrotting elite, or the longer formats' nose-diving in popularity. There is, and will always be, a price to pay.
For now, at least, we can bask in the glory of a summer that hasn't yet seen 50-over cricket shoved into the basement and reserved for a small window in between, or before, the championship and the two t20 leagues. Unfortunately, it is the weakest link at both domestic and international level and will continue to fade from existence with every passing summer. This year, however, is filled with hope and optimism for the one-day format. The Champions Trophy will, for a few weeks in June, put a stop to all other competitions, allowing it to recapture the glory of yesteryear when it was the prized possession of cricket boards. What this means for the popularity and re-emergence of the format at domestic level remains to be seen. But if crowds flock to the games like they did so four years ago when Dhoni led his men to a resurgent victory over the hosts at Edgbaston, we can safely assume that one-day cricket still has a pulse, albeit a faint one, that can in some way be transferred to the county circuit. Never before has a decade been so crucial to the long-term health of cricket's original trendsetter. What will be its legacy?
By Jordan Crick (Cricky_1997 on Twitter)
I am looking forward to my annual visits to the Lords tests this summer, as I have for more years than I care to remember. It has been part of the fabric of my sporting life, and I’m sure that goes for many of us of a certain age. How many more summers this will be the case remains to be seen and I am not making that statement on the basis I’m planning to shuffle off this mortal coil anytime soon.
The cricket headlines and chatter has recently been all about the ECB plans for its new t20 city based competition due for introduction in 2020. I'll not bang on about it here save to say I don't see it as the panacea for cricket's problems that the ECB does. However, for the purposes of this rant - sorry article - let us assume it will be the roaring success the marketing men predict.
The new competition will fill July and august. In the background, the t20 blast will continue to run (not for long mark my words). Test matches will also continue apparently with England test players ineligible for the new t20 league. But that's for the future, what about the now?
With apologies to the main man of this fine website, I was idly browsing the net and stumbled upon espncricinfo where I spotted a very interesting graphic. This showed the global t20 calendar, which will this year feature seven countries each with their own (prestigious - ahem) t20 competitions. Got a calendar?
~ Dec/ Jan. Australia big bash
~ Feb/Mar. Pakistan super league
~ April/may. India IPL
~ July/Sep. England t20 blast
~ Aug./Sep. W Indies Caribbean super league
~ Nov/Dec. South Africa csa global t20
~ Nov/Dec. Bangladesh premier league
Well, June and October are free.
So where do you fit test cricket in and dare I say 50 over ODIs? Bear in mind that the ICC's grand idea to beef up test and ODI cricket is to have 'championships' for each - a 12 test team league over 2 years; and an ODI league over 3 years. Now, I may be a simple chap but I’m not stupid - logistically you cannot fit proper test series with the best players into that calendar let alone ODIs on top. This seems to be a light bulb moment for even the ICC. Geoff Allardice, the ICC general manager has acknowledged it’s a bit of a challenge. His musings for a solution seem to consist of less 'international cricket'. In other words, fewer tests and ODIs, and I believe you can wave goodbye to 5 test series (ashes apart we already have) and even 4 and 3 test series. Want to have a test league championship? Ok, then it will be 2 test home and away series.
Maybe the t20 bubble will burst, and it will if broadcasters tire of it or start losing money, but as I said at the beginning of this rant - sorry again, article - let's assume t20 thrives in all the above countries and becomes a global cash cow. Top players will naturally and understandably follow the dollar and will happily forgo a less lucrative test career for a twelve-month t20 merry go round. And if the ECB think England players will be happy to miss him out on their new city based franchise, they're even more deluded than I think.
So, if like me you are looking forward to a summer of test cricket make the most of it, it won't be around forever. In fact, if there's test cricket in 20 years time I’ll be amazed.
Written by Bob Bowden (@54bobb on twitter)
3/16/2017 0 Comments
It has been seven months since the counties voted in favour of a franchise style t20 tournament that will revolutionise and reconfigure the cricketing landscape in England forever. Over this period, the debate around its feasibility has not subsided and the repercussions are suddenly being felt as we travel into a new season that will for the last time, it seems, go uninterrupted by t20 cricket played until the cows come home.
At present, this competition - its groundwork, its structure and how it plans on selling itself to the out-of-favour counties, but more importantly, the fans - is still very much an unknown. What we are certain of is that chairman Colin Graves, who has envisaged the many financial benefits and growth opportunities that a city-based t20 tournament can bring the ECB since he first laid eyes on the Big Bash, is fed up with being the black sheep of the cricketing world; operating a t20 league with little appeal to both fan and player. The ECB, Graves, Strauss and Harrison now have their foot in the door following that grim evening in the Lord's Long Room that, to this day, threatens to tear at the fabric of English cricket and divide the counties into two distinct categories – the powerhouses and the financially unstable.
Around the time the counties voted in favour of the radical changes to t20 cricket in England by a margin of 16 to 3, Graves was accused of a conflict of interest involving his family trust and Yorkshire County Cricket Club, who owed over £18 million to the organisation in October last year. Earlier that month, Durham were handed a penalty for failing to pay back the 7.5 million pounds worth of debt that the ECB themselves are in part responsible for. Many believed the punishment didn't fit the crime and the unanimous cries of fans that protested against Durham's treatment served as the ultimate proof. But one overriding theme endured - Durham would be playing in the Second Division in 2017 with little hope of returning to the top flight for at least the next few years thanks to the wrongdoings of the ECB.
First, there was the Chester-le-street stadium that the ECB recommended be built away from any other major landmarks, and urban hot spots, in a town with a population of just over 25,000 on the last count. Not only does this make little business sense as far as getting fans to attend the ground is concerned - which they are essentially relying on to increase cash flow and cover the construction costs - but it also shows how unreliable and self-orientated the ECB are when it comes to providing financial advice to the administrators of small counties. Which is interesting when you consider that those counties are, if not in the traditional sense of the word, a member of the ECB and the financial decisions they make have flow on effects for English cricket.
Then there was the scheduling of test matches and other international events spanning right back to just after the 2013 Ashes test held at the ground. And this is where Graves' conflict of interest begins to take shape. Last year, Chester-le-street held a test match between England and Sri Lanka - a game best remembered for Alastair Cook's milestone surpassing innings - to which few fans attended, leaving Durham to lick their wounds, cut their losses and, you’d suspect, reach out to the ECB for financial support. Only three test matches have been held at the ground since 2009 and this trend is set to continue following the ECB’s decision to strip Chester-le-street of test match status as an add on to their already harsh punishment, leaving Durham with one single source of revenue that will likely originate at domestic level, not international. It also remains unlikely that Chester-le-street will host any Cricket World Cup matches featuring full-member nations, given that it will have little funds available to outbid the well-endowed counties. This has left Durham with but one option to break the cycle of debt without falling into further trouble - accept the ECB's terms and buy into whatever get out of jail free enterprise they are offering.
Compare the treatment of Durham to Yorkshire, for in which Colin Graves has helped out during times of financial stress, and the conflict of interest concerns become blatantly apparent. Headingley has held test matches year in, year out for as long as I can remember and have almost always featured the likes of India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. These high profile nations attract crowds of significant size, generate greater revenue, and thus allow the big counties to make a profit, not haemorrhage money in the way Durham and Hampshire do when they cannot cover the operating costs involved in staging a test due to the quality of opposition. And by awarding Headingley with a test match each year, not to mention the occasional ODI or international t20 match, Graves is able to increase the speed at which the repayments are made to the Graves Family Trust by Yorkshire. To top this off, the ECB have also been accused of an uneven distribution of funds.
Bearing the above in mind, there can be no question as to why the smaller counties such as Durham have voted in favour of a city based t20 competition. It is the only way they foresee an escape from the crippling cycle of debt that will affect their county on the field as much as will off it. They really had no other option but to jump on board the good ship ECB, that played a starring role in their demise, and ride it into the sunset in the hope that it may bring them some kind of financial security and see them return to the first division of the championship free of a burdening salary cap that immediately places them at the back of the field. But it could well be an empty promise if the re-branding sees fund distribution reach another extreme.
A colleague, visiting Australia from England, more specifically Kent, once told me that a Big Bash style competition couldn't work in the old country because, quite simply speaking, it is not Australia; it has 18 counties that must all be represented, not six states. His logic, while simplistic and based solely on opinion, rang true. In this revenue driven cricketing economy the fan often goes unconsidered or is there simply for the purpose of monetization. Whether he/ she wants to see their county, and the championship, put on the back burner for the sake of a domestic t20 tournament bereft of context is often dismissed by the ECB, but it is a factor that must be considered if they want franchise cricket to strike a chord with the English public. The fan is their most important asset and ultimately decides whether it goes up in smoke or gains traction like it has in other parts of the world.
Australia expanded its Big Bash competition from six states to eight franchises six years ago, with each state having at least one team for which the local fans could follow. Since then it has not dared look back. Queensland, for example, is represented by the Brisbane Heat. NSW by either the Syndey Thunder, if you live in the western suburbs or the Sydney Sixers if you hail from the city. No state goes unrepresented, or stadium unused, and the expansion has in many ways covered more ground than it might have lost. The revenue has of course increased, but it is equally distributed amongst the states given that the franchises are not privately owned as they are in the IPL.
The ECB, with their city based competition, are essentially condensing the playing field and cutting off its blood supply when it should be doing the exact opposite. It isn't modelling itself of Australia at all. If it was to follow the Big Bash’s blueprint, Cardiff wouldn't be representing Somerset because, not only are they separate entities, but its fans have never had an allegiance with Glamorgan, where Cardiff would likely play the majority, if not all of their matches. So why should we expect them to start now?
I've long been an advocate for the t20 competition remaining in its current form with some slight remodelling, and if the initial plans to run the two tournaments in quick succession does indeed eventuate, I might just get my wish. But it would be ignorant to suggest that both will operate swimmingly alongside each other without conflict caused by a competition for supporters and sponsorships. When one features the counties and the other cities - potentially giving one county more exposure and allowing them to operate independently - there is bound to be some friction as far as revenue sharing is concerned. If Manchester, for example, was to become one of the new city-based teams in the lets call it 'Super Slog’, taking players only from Lancashire and playing their home games at Old Trafford, would this not upset the balance and ratio of revenue distribution? Why not continue calling them the Lancashire Lightning?
If all counties are equal stakeholders and receive the same amount of money from television rights, sponsorship etc, then fair game. But this seems like an unrealistic expectation. Manchester would play games at Lancashire's home ground, receive the windfall from ticket, merchandise and food sales, and the other counties wouldn't see the light of day because the revenue would be divided up among one county. They would also take many of the current England stars playing for Lancashire – the likes of Jos Buttler and James Anderson - and reap the extra benefits from that, leaving the other city franchises, comprised of multiple counties, to fight among themselves for an even distribution of the revenue that would, more often than not, lie with the dominant county - Hampshire if Southampton was to be made up of Sussex and also Kent as The Cricketer has suggested in the past.
The ECB simply would not be able to police or enforce an even distribution of funds when so much is generated by the counties that have access to test match venues, and as such, are the most likely candidates to house one of the new city based teams. Not to mention that a few of these counties will have an entire franchise to themselves, giving them the perfect opportunity to grow their brand while the others are left in the dark. All of this big county favouritism is extremely unsettling and shows that the ECB are handing out special treatment in the knowledge that these counties are the major players as far as the generation of revenue is concerned. This in itself could lead to a seismic shift in the balance of power amongst the counties that would likely cause irreparable damage to the way we currently understand domestic cricket.
The Blast would stick around for a few years following the launch of a city-based tournament, but if it was to be hidden behind a paywall, as it has been for a number of years, and the franchise tournament took off abroad as well as at home, it would die a painful, yet swift death. The ECB would likely push for an expansion meaning extra games are played throughout the year, leaving no time for the Blast to take place. It's happening in Australia already and there is a push for extra teams to be added to both increase revenue and raise the value of television rights. Oh, and to reach more rural areas in the hope of getting kids involved in cricket. This is something the Big Bash does extremely well.
We mustn’t underestimate the effects a city-based league would have on the longevity and popularity of the County Championship either. With players flying in and out of one city and into another to take the field for their franchise, there is the possibility that those particular players, possibly key members of their respective sides, could miss entire games. Apart from bitter feuds between the counties, franchises and the ECB, this has the potential to weaken a county side to the point of relegation from the first division, and you can hardly expect the fans to take notice of the Championship if their team’s best players aren’t on the park and struggling to win games as a direct result.
Then there’s the issue of scheduling and the reduction of Championship fixtures if the t20 juggernaut takes off in England like it has done elsewhere. What would Graves be inclined to do when one competition is heavily outweighing the popularity of the other? Reduce its size of course. Just like the BCCI has done in India.
There would be a few losers if these circumstances were to arise but the biggest would undoubtedly be the English test side. Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed were discovered in the Championship last year and found themselves on a plane to India soon after. They were fine additions to the England side and will likely take over from Cook as England’s opening pair when father time catches up with the journeyman. But if the breeding grounds to foster young players are no longer in place or dropping in quality, finding future test cricketers becomes increasingly difficult.
The ECB have plenty to weigh up before they make a decision that has the potential to change more than just a few team names and logos. Imagine a world in which Sussex, Leicester and Hampshire played in an entirely different league to Yorkshire and Lancashire; with its own independent board and separate scheduling. Now think about how this would affect the Championship or the One Day cup in their current form as well as English cricket at large because it just might pan out this way if the ECB lets financial status dictate whether a county has to operate in conjunction with rival clubs, or independently.
By Jordan Crick - @Cricky_1997
In the post Big Bash, pre Indian Premier League vacuum all the talk is of how successful the former has proved, leading to much conjecture over the English domestic equivalent. Is the much discussed, much proposed city franchise league a means of growing the game or simply a means of growing bank balances? T20: Growing Pains discusses the problem of T20 cricket in England, its future and its raison d’etre.
Thirteen summers previous I took the plunge and attended my first T20 match. Back then it was known as Twenty20, before the IPL and the marketing men gave the format a re-brand. There was a sense of excitement, a sense of curiosity. Most of all, there was a sense of fun. Nobody was taking the format too seriously, it was a happy way to engage people into the sport, make it a little more sociable. Hampshire’s new Rose Bowl ground was resplendent in the late afternoon sunshine as the hosts prepared to take on Middlesex. An atmosphere of bonhomie and light-hearted joy pervaded the circular seating area as supporters, having paid just ten pounds for a ticket, enjoyed their four cans of beer (or a bottle of wine) that were permitted without question upon entry whilst kids bounded up and down the bouncy castles and other fun fair rides. The hinterlands were ringed with various eateries, confectionery stalls and beverage outlets, not an inch was spared! Available seats were scarce but, no matter, spectators simply stood at the top of the seating area to watch the match. The occasion seemed innocent, carefree. This was a brave new world and no-one was quite sure where it was heading. To be honest, no-one seemed too worried about looking too far ahead.
The hosts batted first and, despite possessing a batting line-up that included Shane Watson and Michael Clarke, dawdled through the first two thirds of their innings; only a late salvo from Dimitri Mascarenhas (52 runs from 22 balls including 4 sixes) helping the hosts reach a respectable total of 170. The England international, in combination with Chris Tremlett, then outfoxed Middlesex’s powerful line-up to win the match comfortably. The result was, in some respects, secondary though to the occasion and the atmosphere. Supporters enjoyed themselves, discovered that cricket wasn’t quite as staid as they previously thought and pondered the idea of returning for another match, although such thoughts would need to be acted upon quickly due to the size of the crowds and the burgeoning popularity of the contests. (At one point myself and a friend moseyed up for a Sunday afternoon contest only to discover that it had sold out! An astonishing occurrence for domestic cricket outside of London)
Thirteen years on and the contrast is marked. Hampshire’s pleasant, modern Rose Bowl has morphed into a concrete monolith built for international cricket (or to be precise Ashes test matches) whilst the whole T20 (name changed by deed-poll) experience has ventured down the road of Oscar Wilde’s cynic: the price of everything and the value of nothing. Ticket prices have more than doubled, bringing alcohol into the ground was outlawed a few years back whilst the bouncy castle and fun fair have largely disappeared. Somewhat gallingly, the Egregious Bowl has changed from a cricket ground into a multi-use stadium. The impact is that the venue now hosts any number of wedding fayres, tattoo festivals, vintage sales and fireworks displays, all of which are advertised with zeal and relish throughout the year. Sadly, cricket, the raison d’etre of the construction of the ground, seems to receive short shrift and little advertising, particularly those involving the host county.
The necessity to sell the ground to the local authority, as a result of some financial dire straits, has likely dictated the shift in priorities.
The atmosphere seems to have changed as well. Gone is the carefree joie de vivre which emanated those early, formative years of Twenty20 cricket to be replaced with marketing bluff and bluster (it’s now the more dramatic, dynamic sounding T20 Blast as opposed to the humble Twenty20 Cup don’t ya know) whilst the spectator experience seems less turn up and enjoy yourself and more ‘give us your money’ in a highwayman sort of ethos. The number of food stalls decreased as the Ageas Bowl’s own outlets took command whilst prices have skyrocketed and the smells taken on that pungent stench so associated with the cheap fare on offer at Football grounds.
The contest itself remains interesting and, at times, absorbing, particularly if both teams possess a chance of victory. Twenty over cricket, played by whomever in whatever ground or stadium, still possesses the ability to entertain and enthral even if, like a trip to certain fast food outlets, it is quickly forgotten. Interestingly, the score of 170 which underpinned Hampshire’s success thirteen summers previous would still prove a competitive score. For all its shifts in tactics, marketing and faux drama the currency of quick runs remains paramount. Unfortunately the currency of quick pounds triumphs over all.
The problem with McCricket is that it doesn’t attract new interest in cricket as a sport, but, rather, new interest to a specific format from the event crowd. Said types seem interested in having a good time, normally with copious amounts of alcohol, with only a passing interest, at most, in the sport taking place in front of them. Learning and understanding the tactics and the nuances of the game, those aspects that make it so enjoyable to the cricket fan rather than the T20 fan, is not part and parcel of the experience. Similar to the good time gang that now frequent the PDC darts tournaments, who drink plenty and then chant maniacally at either those in the tables or the chairs (delete as appropriate depending on where one is sat) the new T20 followers are unlikely to be concerned with the number of runs conceded in the power play, detecting how the off spinner has stalled the flow of runs with clever variations or noticing that the late-order biffer has been promoted to number three in pursuit of quick runs. Their prime pursuit is of a good time and seeing a few sixes smote over the boundary. Apparently Hampshire need to win in order to keep their feint hopes of qualification alive. Really? Which colour shirts are Hampshire?
Of course, as long as the punters stream through the gates such developments are largely deemed inconsequential. It is all about the money after all. If plenty choose not to watch, who cares? As long as they are in the ground and parting with plenty of cash. And isn’t T20 cricket financially safeguarding the cherished County Championship? One significant problem with such a modus operandi is the inherent danger that the event crowd, possessing fairly short attention spans and just out for a good time, may well soon grow tired of T20 cricket and / or find a cheaper outlet for their pursuit of a good time. New supporters attracted to cricket as a sport are more likely to enjoy the sport as opposed to the fripperies and watch for years to come. Those not really interested in the sport but in enjoying themselves are likely to soon find another outlet at which to enjoy themselves. The danger is that T20 cricket becomes so last year.
Another potential danger surrounds the knowledge that cricket is a place where drinkers can enjoy themselves liberally. But the reins could potentially be tightened as those previously liberal policies are threatened by unsociable behaviour, the occasional pitch invasion and general mindless buffoonery. It’s all starting to sound a bit Football. Heck, I can even text a specific number if your behaviour is proving an irritation and potentially get you thrown out. How long before the event types, in pursuit of a good time, realise that twenty plus quid for a ticket and seven quid for a pint just ain’t worth the hassle anymore? Or clubs have to start clamping down on persistent offenders. There are only so many new supporters T20 cricket can keep attracting through the gates, particularly if it needs to lure a new batch each summer.
Pleasingly, attendances for the T20 Blast in recent summers have proved encouraging and improving as the competition has become a staple of the summer. But the grass is always greener maxim has again reared its ugly head as the startling numbers of the Big Bash and the Indian Premier League have got the eyes of the mandarins in charge of English cricket rolling with pound signs akin to a cartoon character from one of Warner Brothers’ best creations. English cricket needs a parallel competition to keep up apparently. Not to keep up in terms of on the field ability, as England have proved rather handy at T20 cricket of late, but rather in the avarice department. The latest hair brained scheme is to launch a second T20 competition in addition to the Blast. Not even the BCCI have attempted such a gamble. (Although they tried the Champions League which proved a catastrophic failure from a spectating point of view) City based franchises is apparently where it’s at and the untapped market of those who have shown not an iota of interest in cricket in the past (not even in the rapidly beleaguered Twenty20 Cup / FPT20 / T20 Blast. That tournament is so last year) is apparently going to fill the stadia in order to pay the handsome salaries on offer for the have bat will travel players. One assumes that the present crowds who have generously supported the twenty over competition in England for the past decade and a half are just expected to turn up and fork out some more cash for the cause whether it’s the Birmingham Badgers versus the Nottingham Numpties or the London Lotharios against the Kensington Klowns. Or simply not bother. Thanks for your support but we have a new toy now. In truth, a new competition may well achieve a considerable level of popularity. The overriding question surrounds whether the popularity will be as a result of isolated novelty or whether it can be sustained year on year.
Of course, those championing a city based, franchise league talk about the new competition helping to grow the game. Such an expression is surely little more than a half-truth, a euphemism. Just what is growing the game? Is it trying to get people interested to expand the sport at all levels or simply just a case of luring more pounds into the coffers? Should a crowd of new people turn up to watch a match and actually enjoy the experience, is the preferred consequence that they go on and play the game and immerse themselves in the beauty of the sport or simply that they just turn up again and keep paying? The two are, of course, not mutually exclusive but, akin to the imbalance between bat and ball, there seems to be an inherent dichotomy presented by those claiming to want to ‘grow the game.’ One is reminded of Gideon Haigh’s question from a few years previous about whether cricket is making money to exist or existing to make money.
Those championing a city based, franchise league also pooh-pooh any criticisms made of the new competition, proclaiming any such criticisms as merely the comments of cricketing Luddites and of those who wish to keep cricket to themselves and a select few others. Reality dictates otherwise though. Those criticising the plans care deeply about the sport and don’t want to see a catastrophic mistake effect English cricket. The Big Bash and the Indian Premier League have proven that city based, franchise leagues can be a success but there is no guarantee that such success would be replicated, particularly with a tournament played alongside the T20 Blast during the same summer. The threat is of T20 overkill. Those cities likely to be chosen for franchises are already playing host to seven T20 Blast fixtures each summer with potentially a further four matches from the new league. The much compared Big Bash only proffers four home matches per campaign to each team. Less is more after all.
Overkill is certainly a real danger regarding these proposals. One only has to remember the T20 Champions League to see how one can have too much of a supposedly good thing. India was besotted with T20 cricket but, despite four of the half dozen editions being played in the country, the public proved particularly ambivalent to the tournament and it was poorly attended, eventually leading to its mothballing after the 2014 edition.
Even the thorny, yet dull, issue of statistics and demographics rails against potential success. On top of the thousands of people that already attend the near saturated T20 Blast (lest anyone forget the competition that is already in place) the proposed new league is attempting to prove comparable to the Big Bash. The last edition of the BBL averaged just over 30,000 punters attending each match. Only one cricket ground in England can achieve holding that many spectators on a consistent basis. Talk of the Olympic Stadium being coerced in to service has been bandied around but the reality is that English cricket stadiums cannot hold the capacities of their Australian equivalents whilst the demographics of Australian society lend themselves to greater attendances in cities as 62% of the Australian populous live in the five largest cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide) compared to just 33% in England. And that figure is beefed up by use of urban areas (Greater London, Manchester, Birmingham-Wolverhampton, Leeds-Bradford and Southampton-Portsmouth) as the issue of defined cities is a little more fluid in Britain. Admittedly, in terms of population the two figures are comparable (approximately 17 million in England compared to approximately 20 million in Australia) but a large concentration of the English 17 million are based in London. There isn’t enough to go round elsewhere. Such a spread of the populous also requires people to travel significant distances to matches across these urban areas, not particularly appealing on a Friday evening in the rush hour traffic when attempting to reach the ground for a 6.30 or 7.00 start. Add in the restrictions of stadium capacity and having to attract spectators on top of those who already attend the T20 Blast and the statistics prove somewhat eyebrow raising. Don’t even mention the uncontrollable factors such as the weather. Crucially, not one of the thirty-five matches that comprised the sixth edition of the Big Bash was washed out whilst only one lost time / overs due to inclement weather. Those statistics are little more than a pipe dream for English cricket. There could be nothing worse for potential new fans than turning up to a cold, windy ground on what should have been a summer’s evening.
The new competition will also be partly played at the same time of year currently occupied by the Caribbean Premier League. So the potential to attract top billing overseas stars could potentially be further limited (assuming the BCCI continues its policy of not allowing its players to play in other T20 leagues) by the absence of West Indian stars. Throw in a team touring England unlikely to release their players and England players similarly unavailable and the number of quality stars on show is likely to be dramatically reduced.
And what effect will the new competition have on the current status quo? Diluting the 50 over competition to a virtual second XI event and effectively downgrading the T20 Blast will surely corrode the county finances that are supposed to be bolstered by the new competition but are already dependent on the revenues from the existing competitions, in particular the T20 Blast.
In essence, these are the lessons that should be learned from the success of the Big Bash. Australian cricket has been sensible enough to re-invent its existing T20 domestic competition, not add another one into the calendar. Each contest matters and each contest is an event, both from a cricketing point of view and from a social equivalent. Try and shoehorn too many into a short space of time and the whole concept runs the risk of overkill and becoming irrelevant. Keep the T20 Blast, fine. Implement a city-based franchise league, fine. But keeping both would very much be a case of two’s a crowd.
For the record: Arguably one of the most memorable and most enjoyable, there is a correlation between the two, T20 match that I have attended was a contest between Middlesex and Glamorgan from the 2010 summer. The aspects of the contest that are memorable are not the result or any particular performance but, rather, the venue and the atmosphere. The match was played not at Lord’s but at Old Deer Park in Richmond, one of Middlesex’s favourite outground haunts. With no floodlights available the match began during the late afternoon and attracted a sizeable crowd, including many who arrived after finishing work. Such an occurrence was important as it dictated that many enjoyed a beer or three whilst watching the cricket rather than downing pint after pint in pursuit of drunkenness. The atmosphere was convivial, social and engaging rather than brash, obnoxious and leering. In essence, the occasion was a cricket match rather than a cricket match trying to ape its footballing brethren.
By Hector Cappelletti
This post was first posted on https://yahooovercowcorner.wordpress.com
Inconsistency has plagued Yorkshire’s quest to achieve a three-peat of championship crowns in 2016, as they continue to cling on to their position in the middle of the division one table by the skin of their teeth.
They say a strong Yorkshire makes for a strong England. While many whisper sceptically behind their hands, condemning any such theory, the burden of the old cliché – dated as it might be - weighs heavy on the shoulders of the playing group this season.
We’ve been reminded during this unsunny summer that sheer weight of expectations is a significant encumbrance not to be brushed aside. Before a ball had been bowled in anger during April, we were told in no uncertain terms that there was no stopping the might of Yorkshire, who were bound for yet another year of unbridled successes.
Au contraire. How four months, a coin toss and a few unanticipated departures can unhinge a perfectly architected yellow brick road. It now appears Yorkshire’s deep-seated winning culture has inexplicably gone to the dogs - or at the very least - hit a significant bump in a long and winding road.
Yorkshire are not directionless, but they are at this stage in a marathon season rooted to the spot on the Championship table with a formidable run home – one that includes a visit to Lord’s and Old Trafford. With Root, Balance, Bairstow and Rashid all away on England duty until at least the final round, it is left to a patchwork side to pick up the slack that flagged somewhere around mid-May.
Had it not been for some pesky South-East weather intervening on a strong Yorkshire performance against Surrey at the Oval, they might well have been able to add a win to their season tally of 116, potentially positioning them inside the top 4. But there’s no point dwelling at this point on what could have been.
All is far from lost for Yorkshire though. While they face a torrid time dealing with injury that constantly attempts to access permanent residency in the Yorkshire ranks, the likes of Leaning, Hodd and Rhodes will be asked to step up to the plate and toe the line through August and September for the defending champions.
The new toss regulations appear to have taken their toll on Yorkshire’s bowling, while their batting, led by messiah’s Lyth and Lees, consistently fluctuates between two extremes - breathtakingly brilliant and unequivocally vulnerable. A proclivity to inspire and frustrate fans in the same session is an inconsistency that must be addressed. Too often have Bresnan and Plunkett been called on to do the heavy lifting down the bottom of the order.
Their bowling performances have laid the foundations for their successes in years gone by, but the scrapping of the coin toss this season has seen Yorkshire struggle to win outright. This issue is not isolated, it is very much a competition wide epidemic brought about by flat, lifeless wickets prepared in the knowledge that the opposition side mustn’t profit from their decision on the first morning. So much so that the toss has turned into a game of Russian roulette for the foolhardy.
Yorkshire’s bowlers have toiled for days on end at stages this season, powerless to arrest fluent strokeplay, as batsmen fill their boots and plunder runs to all parts of the ground with ease. Their only reprieve from a 150-over graft, a sporting declaration from the opposition captain.
It should come as no surprise then to find that Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale was among the first to speak his mind on the new toss regulations upon their unveiling in November last year. His statement was brief but insightful: “[no mandatory toss is] Absolute madness”.
Surrey captain Gareth Batty shared a similar sentiment towards the ensuing anarchy of the new toss regulations that saw his team chase leather in the field for 210-overs this week. He too was blunt in his appraisal of the current state of pitches around the country, labelling them - rather crudely I might add - as being “very flat” in nature. This statement may have been somewhat tongue in cheek, though, given that Batty was fresh from a trailblazing game that included an unbeaten hundred and eight wickets.
But I shan’t harp on about these toss regulations any longer.
Yorkshire’s Blast form is bordering on farcical, though, their mad cap style has struggled to bear fruit since even the early days of the Twenty-Twenty Cup. The absence of their England players during the period when the Sri Lankan ODI series was taking place hasn’t helped their cause either.
Any hope of a journey to Edgbaston for finals day now appears bleak, with just a handful of fixtures – and therefore opportunities - remaining in the 2016 edition. But optimism and desire so often prevail in this whimsical game we call cricket. To sneak into the top four and progress beyond the North group stage they must win their final two games, and while they’re at it, muster a genie from a bottle to grant an indelible wish. Very rarely do six wins qualify a side for the quarter-finals.
Yorkshire’s Blast campaign for 2016 has all but met its maker.
Their Royal London One-Day Cup season started in the worst possible fashion, with a big loss to Worcestershire in a television game at Leeds. Since that dreary summer’s day, where their one-day season looked destined to follow suit, Yorkshire’s fortunes have experienced a dramatic revival. Back to back wins have them perched inside the top three and within striking distance of the unbeaten Derbyshire.
A last start rout of rivals Lancashire whose batting innings ended inside 18-overs - only Martin Guptill surpassed single figures - will give them the momentum they require to begin the march towards Lord’s. The RLODC is the one competition they look primed to win, but with the halfway point of the season having only just been reached, a large majority of the plot still remains. I’d be jumping the gun making any bold predictions at this point in the journey.
Written by Jordan Crick (@Cricky_1997)
6/17/2016 0 Comments
When England crashed out of the 2015 World Cup on a loathsome autumn’s evening in Adelaide, they were the architects of their own failures, the victims of their own inadequacies. The ECB’s penchant for nonsensical One-Day Domestic paradigms left England’s squad exposed, underprepared even, on an unforgiving world stage. While Eoin Morgan scratched his head in tandem with all and sundry – bemused by yet another middling English batting performance – the dearth of quality on the domestic circuit seemingly spelt trouble for England as a One-Day powerhouse going forward.
Their batsman looked frail, disconcerted by the tempo at which to bat in a one-day game. Old pros were made to look amateurish in a tournament where run scoring seemed overtly facile. England’s bowling cartel lacked creativity on flat wickets that demanded cricket entrepreneurism, bravado and a hint of intuition. Prognosis: England went to Australia ill-equipped through the systematic failings of its own board.
The calamitous 2015 CWC campaign was met with perpetual acrimony for some months following - and understandably so. Former England captain Sir Ian Botham labelled England’s performance ‘embarrassing’. The game against New Zealand at the cake tin – where England mustered just 123 with the bat before having it tracked down inside thirteen overs – was seen by Botham as the worst performance in his forty-years of watching England in one-day cricket. Perhaps the most pertinent and cogent of his statements, though, was that England were failing to play the game ‘the modern way’.
The ECB went hurriedly in search of a fix to remedy England’s woes in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup, sacking Peter Mores and anointing favourite son Andrew Strauss as head of cricket in May of 2015. England’s one-day side was subsequently remodelled and pimped-out to ensure its first home series post-World Cup against New Zealand would not end in similar fashion to their infamous ‘windy-city’ pool A encounter.
The ECB’s changes were preemptive and told of a ‘buck stops with us’ approach to One-Day cricket going forward. Ultimately, they prevented a preened, unsullied board from incurring any collateral damage that would have left them red-faced going into a home Ashes summer, which was a more pertinent agenda at the time. At this stage, they were yet to get to the crux of why England’s fifty-over form was teetering on the edge of mediocrity.
In a beautiful irony, the World Cup provided English cricket with a crossroads that triggered a mutual awakening of the ECB and its players from a three-year hangover known as the Yorkshire Bank 40, or indeed any other forty-over incarnation of England’s domestic game.
English cricket was systematically failing to exercise the underpinnings of one-day international cricket in its domestic competition on multiple fronts in the lead-up to the World Cup. Its players were unconscious to the requisites and intricacies across all disciplines of the fifty-over format for a multitude of reasons, which have been duly answered by the ECB over the past year in the Royal London One-Day Cup.
Batsmen have learnt to negotiate the three power plays of a fifty-over game with greater efficiency, maximising run-scoring through the middle-overs to engineer a total. Pacing an innings is key in the one-day game. If we look at one of the inherent downfalls of England’s batsmen in the 2015 World Cup, it was the loss of wickets inside the first twenty to thirty overs of the game. In fact, twenty-four wickets, or 54% of all wickets lost, fell inside the first thirty overs of England’s six innings. Against the full member sides, the statistics are more harrowing; two-thirds of England’s wickets were lost inside the first thirty overs.
This is because a forty-over game has no period of slow-down or consolidation for batsmen. It’s the intermediary between a twenty-twenty game and a fifty-over game whereby batsmen feel compelled to continue scoring freely without the fear of losing their wicket. The last ten overs of a fifty-over game are crucial in mounting a total in excess of three hundred – which is mandatory in an age of big bats and twenty-twenty innovation. It’s necessary then that there are wickets in hand during the last ten overs of the innings. Ideally, of these wickets, one should be a set batsman. Before 2014, the death overs of a one-day game ceased to exist. Just one fifty-over tournament was played in 2014 in the lead-up to the World Cup, on forty occasions was a batting side bowled out before their allotment of fifty-overs.
Bowlers have found solace through instituting slower balls and yorkers in the death overs of a fifty-over game, while swing bowlers have come into their own during the first power play of the innings. I look at Essex opening pair David Masters and Matt Quinn as the new age archetype of a fifty-over bowler despite their age. Consistent and economical while possessing the ability to swing the ball both ways. Their deliveries seldom err from a full/ good length, giving the ball every opportunity to swing.
Masters has the best economy of the RLODC thus far (3.47) in 2016 (for bowlers who have bowled more than thirty overs), while Quinn is third in the wicket taking ranks with nine wickets in four games.
The first ten overs of a fifty-over innings have become as economically orientated as they are dependent on wicket taking. That’s why Quinn and Masters’ combined twenty-overs play such a pivotal role in the outcome of an opposition total.
Admittedly, many of England’s players can hardly use the domestic competition as an excuse for their World Cup failings given their limited opportunities while performing their England duties, but perhaps scheduling compounds the issue. England played a total of twelve ODI games in the four months prior to the World Cup of 2015. If they are to challenge in the 2019 edition, the focus must be on preparedness, giving players as much exposure to fifty-over, white ball cricket as possible.
Written by Jordan Crick (@Cricky_1997)
The red and gold pastels of an unprepossessing RCB away strip are seen wandering the verdant alleyways of Bangalore as the sun descends on yet another scorching summers evening. The orangey-pink hues of a dirt stain sustained in a last gasp dive for the crease on ninety-nine contrasts the golden lion of the RCB crest. All the while, Kohli raises his bat for the third time in as many games. The BCCI basks in all its glory, roping in excess of 1,194 crores from the IPL cash cow that has transfixed a nation.
KP, mic’d up, fresh from a stint in the Caribbean Premier League, becomes a clairvoyant to an enraptured national audience of 1.3 million by predicting the line and length of a Gurinder Sandhu delivery, before promptly depositing it into the densely populated mid-wicket stands of Australia’s coliseum, the MCG.
The naysayers of the T20 format have long scoffed at its ability to flaunt itself around the international market with unwavering success. The palpable atmosphere emanating from the hoarse diaphragms of forty-thousand frenzied Indian cricket diehards inside the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium on IPL finals day is exclusive of franchise fandom, and representative of t20’s success. A county side is seldom exposed to such ebullient support that its excellent standard deserves.
While the twenty-twenty cricket product appears to have reached the summit, capturing the hearts and minds of those most malleable – chiefly children and adolescents - England’s premier T20 competition continues to meander along with subdued significance, yet to tap into the successes of franchise cricket. But is this the route the T20 ‘blast’ should follow?
Does the current format require a total revamp? Does the rich history of English cricket embed fans with a refined palate that rejects T20 cricket? How can viewer apathy be improved?
These are the questions that must be asked by the powers that be on the English Cricket Board. The ‘blast’ must cease resting on its laurels if it is to awaken from a slumber that has seen it slip five-years behind a thriving pack. T20 is the profit centre for cricketing boards worldwide, yet the current tournament has well and truly missed the boat of financial nirvana. As it stands, the ‘blast’ lies on shaky foundations, whose rotting is the result of something far from the perceived fan reproof.
Perhaps the ECB are not buoyed by the same imperatives as the BCCI, namely revenue. For this, it should be admired. Money hungry boards are the foibles of cricket’s enduring character. Though, a competition based on privatised franchises – serving the county game its own commercial value - is like dangling a carrot in front of a board who is owed a combined £7.8 million from the counties, which is exactly the case.
Therein lies the confliction; county prestige and the greater good of the game vs. commercial appeal, garnered from a city-centric based competition.
For all intensive purposes, the pros of a franchise-based competition offers a cornucopia of benefits for the county game. But English cricket is a special case. It places more value, more merit in domestic cricket than any of its cross-country colleagues. Straying from its roots – which predate the 18th century – would prompt a crisis of significance for the domestic competition as the counties stare down the malignant glare of the new kids on the block. A misalignment of expectations between the three formats will leave the summer of cricket with emphasis on its shortest form. An oversight of such proportions would see one-day and championship cricket gasping for air in an environment bereft of oxygen. Australia’s witnessed it, so has India and New Zealand. The last recorded attendance of the Sheffield Shield in the 2011/12 summer saw a total of 4,809 people through the gates. More concerning was the One Day Domestic competition’s figure of 4,033 (total) in 2015/16. Dwindling attendance happens to align itself with the beginning of the Big Bash. Coincidence? Perhaps. It’s an issue that continues to confound the most ignorant eye.
Yet maybe this trend is indicative of cricket’s 21st-century forecast – a world dominated by the shortest form – and hence, should be unduly embraced.
The championship’s viewership figure in the summer of 2015, 513,000, attests the need for the ECB to conform to its current T20 format - with the implication of vast remodelling to raise attendance – so not to distract heavily from the championship. A city-based competition would momentarily amuse, before shuddering down to earth with a resounding clatter.
Perhaps most importantly, though, it must avoid the well-trodden path that has seen Australia’s Shield competition wistfully slip down the drain of inferiority through taking a reluctant backseat to the Big Bash. It’s not out of line to state that England’s domestic competition can achieve a kind of attendance parity across all formats if it resists its city-based entity.
So where does that leave us? Last year's T20 Blast finals day produced the worst viewing audience since the competitions inception in 2003. Just 388,000 people parked themselves in front of the TV to watch the tournaments flagship event. Clearly that’s a message that the ethos of the blast is failing to sink in. So how does a jetlagged competition improve without stepping into the T20 twilight zone that is franchise cricket?
The short answer – high profile international players. Fans crave the battles of T20 that have them leaving the stadium with bated breath. Their appetite should be fed with an influx of international talent, serving two obligatory purposes: A.) Enhancing the blasts international and local appeal and B.) exposing England’s future stars to superlative cricketing craftsmen, thus enhancing their skills.
Take the game between Sussex and Somerset last week for example. On a ground that embodies the culture of county cricket, Hove, the indisputable hitting talents of Chris Gayle were tasked with taking down the searing pace of the now T20 specialist, and England hopeful, Tymal Mills. 90mph against a man, proclaimed ‘world boss’, whose sole purpose it seems is to send bowlers back to the team hotel with nightmares. An X-Factor that’s seen him amass some 2335 runs as a freelance T20 cricketer.
These battles rouse the fan base. Though, eighteen counties playing in one competition spreads the spattering of international cricketers particularly thin, meaning some counties are bereft of an import causing a gap between the standards of the sides.
Though it’s far from the only global T20 competition guilty of this, length is an inherent downfall of the ‘blast’. A tournament played over three months quickly becomes fatigued, failing to peak the zeal of the fan throughout the competitions entirety, consequently depriving the points table of meaning and significance until the finals roll around. The Blast morphs into the first day of a championship match than into the one-day cup before a rampant, English Test side subsequently diverts the interests of the cricketing fraternity. This issue has been duly addressed by the ECB, with the 2017 edition of the Blast played over two months during the school holidays. Even then, the typically hyped clashes must take precedence to clone overseas franchise success without losing sight of their heritage; the battle of the roses at an overpopulated, rambunctious Old Trafford or Middlesex-Surrey at Lord’s. The Big Bash has recently found success from its contrived intra-city franchise rivalry, aptly named the ‘Melbourne derby’. 80,000 fans saw an encounter between the two sides at the MCG just last year.
Franchise cricket doesn’t fit the bill as far as county cricket is concerned. The blast will develop through improved scheduling, exposure and international player endorsement.
Views by Jordan Crick (@cricky_1997)
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