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.
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
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)
So it’s back. Twenty20, T20 call it what you will. We’re supposed to call it ‘The Blast’ – which is either the optimistically hyperbolic description of the excitement it brings, or the expletive uttered in certain quarters upon the format’s return to the summer game. I for one, for a long time belonged in the latter club, however recently I have been persuaded of its merits. The light bulb moment was when someone (I forget who) said T20 isn’t cricket, it’s entertainment based on the game but a million miles from proper cricket (or words to that effect). Alas, we live in an age where for the younger generation instant gratification rules and attention spans are shorter, and for many others, there is too much demand on time to devote a lot to watching proper cricket. T20 addresses these issues.
Either way, you won’t escape it, and whatever you think about T20 we might as well recognize that it is now pivotal to the future of the county game and test cricket. Introduced in 2003 by the ECB to generate interest among young people in cricket and re-generate sponsorship income, like so many sports invented by this country the rest of the world, well India and Australia mainly, grabbed it and turned it into a national phenomenon, supported by massive broadcasting rights. The revenues generated by the IPL and Big Bash (an even sillier name than ‘Blast’ but an accurate descriptor of the cricket) are such that arguably it is propping up domestic and especially test cricket in those countries. Whilst interest and attendance at test matches in England have been high as crowds in other test playing nations continued to dwindle to almost invisibility in some cases, there have been recent signs that this might not be the case forever. Hence, the ECB are scrabbling around throughout this summer in recognition ‘that something must be done’ and have turned their finest minds (no laughing at the back) to revamping T20 which is seen as the saviour of the county championship and longer term test cricket.
Colin Graves, Chairman of the ECB cheesed off the counties and quite probably NatWest by describing, on the eve of the competition, that the Blast was ‘mediocre’ compared to the IPL and Big Bash. To be fair, I think he was taken out of context a bit and if one looks at the bigger picture it’s easy to see why. There seems to be a view in some quarters that all we have to do in the UK is replicate the IPL or Big Bash, but of course, anyone with half a brain should see it ain’t that simple.
Both the IPL and Big Bash comprise a competition played between 8 teams or, and beware if you are of a delicate disposition, as I’m about to use the ‘F’ word – franchises. Australia’s eight comprise six cities from each of the six States. Similarly, the IPL comprises eight teams from eight major cities spread right across India. Both exist in vast countries so captive support for each team is relatively easy. Games are played in big stadia, even the smallest team in the Big Bash – Hobart – plays in a ground that holds 19,500. And because there are few teams, live screening of each match is feasible – and that is the holy grail for the broadcasters. If they are paying top dollar they want maximum exposure, and they want the best players in the competition to attract the audiences.
It’s estimated that of cricket’s global revenues, 80% comes from broadcasting rights with under 10% coming from punters paying on the door. And herein lies the problem for the ECB as it tries to find a way to find a way of maximising TV deals and revenue.
As we all know we have 18 counties. Some are ‘haves’ – they have tests status grounds with large capacities; some are ‘have nots’. Some are in perilous financial straits relying on ECB handouts. All of them, understandably wish to preserve their status, identity and history.
Sky cannot broadcast every T20 game unless they are spread out over a long period – this wouldn’t work for the television audience, nor for spectators actually going to games I suspect. And one thing broadcaster do like is a full house to be shown on TV, atmosphere and the feeling that the viewer is at an ‘event’ are important. So the ‘F’ word raises its ugly head in an attempt to mirror the IPL and Big Bash. How would that work? At the moment, it wouldn’t and no amount of trying to find an alternative word eg ‘City’ will help. Why?
Picture the ECB think tank over lunch at Lords. “How about going regional? North, South, East, West and Midlands. Not very exciting is it and only five teams? OK, expand the regions into ….er…..counties. Ah, yes…..right there’d be eighteen of those and we already…………ok forget that.
Cities then (whatever you do don’t use the ‘F’ word)? Let’s see……………… London (Middlesex, Surrey, maybe Essex at a push); Manchester (that’ll be Lancashire then); Birmingham (Warwickshire obviously, and Northants and Worcestershire); Nottingham (Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire); Bristol(Gloucestershire and Somerset); Cardiff (that’ll be Glamorgan then);
Newcastle (ah…that’s Durham taken care of); and what about Hampshire, Sussex and Kent sir? Well, we only want eight teams so call it Southampton (Hampshire and Sussex – they’re next door to each other so that’s fine).”
“What about Kent?”
“Hm, bits of it aren’t far from London so bung Kent in there.”
“Sir, what about Yorkshire?”
“They’re an independent republic aren’t they? Anyway, they’ve already said they’ll enter as long as they’re called Yorkshire.” ‘’Sir Surrey have also indicated they’ll be happy to play for London as long as it’s called Surrey. And it seems that Essex, Northants, Derbyshire, Leicestershire are forming an armed brigade ready to march on HQ at any time.”
“I see…right get on the phone and call off tomorrow’s meeting with the county chairmen.”
“What about two divisions?” “Move the whole thing to the UAE?”
“Any other ideas?.......Anyone?”
The point is the Counties know there’s a need for radical change to ensure their future existence. However as I’ve pointed out none wish to be sacrificial lambs, either losing their individual identity, the smaller clubs don’t want to be swallowed up by the bigger ones in some franchised carve up, none want to miss out on the TV revenue. The fact is, we are a small island with eighteen counties and not enough geographical spread to sustain an IPL or Big Bash model. I think it was Jonathan Agnew who recently said it’s all very well trying to ape these competitions but we have to face up to the fact that we are different by virtue of our county structure, and you know what? I think he’s right.
Something will have to give. I’ve no idea what. Anyone out there who does I suggest you send your answers on a postcard to the ECB sharpish.
Written by Bob Bowden (@54Bobb)
5/14/2016 0 Comments
England's recent squad announcement was not as far fetched as it could have been – the rumoured call-up for Nick Browne didn't materialise but the inclusion of Jake Ball and James Vince did raise eyebrows. Along with that pair, Nick Compton has retained his position from the tour to South Africa despite not setting the world alight either then, or this season in the County Championship. Let's have a look at these three, and what they can bring to the England team.
Nick Compton has had a poor start to the season, the Middlesex man averages only 20 and is yet to make a fifty. It is no question he offers solidarity at number three and at times during the South Africa tour he steadied ship and rode out the innings' against a difficult attack to face – attritional to say the least. But it would be fair to say that with the poor form Compton has shown this season that he did not deserve this call-up – one only has to look at the top of Middlesex order to see another England candidate showing the selectors what they want. Sam Robson has scored a double century and two other centuries and has really put his teammate to shame. Nonetheless, Compton can be a handy number three – with the stroke playing of Alex Hales often not bearing fruit Compton's battling style can really impress. He has faced serious criticism for his style, however, scoring slowly and perhaps letting the team fall behind the game at times – and who wouldn't prefer to see Kevin Pietersen walk out, all guns blazing and send countless drives to the boundary. Hopefully, we see the best of Compton against Sri Lanka, and it would be safe to say that some decent performances may not even be enough to cement his place.
James Vince's long-awaited call-up did not come as a shock to many; at times for Hampshire, it has seemed a one man team, he has had to dig his side out of a hole created by the early loss of wickets. But the grit he has seemed to show this season will be in fine place when he strides his way out to the crease at Headingley. Vince has all the attributes, a swanky array of shot play matched with the determination and guile that a number five needs to be a success at Test level. Vince's inclusion is definitely the least surprising out of the three eyebrow raising call-ups. While the Hampshire skipper has been lamented before for his tendency to get in and get out, he looks to have settled for a calmer approach to batting – which can see him accumulate scores rather than blasting his way to a quick 30. This season so far his strike rate is at only 46 is down from 60 last season and perhaps shows what steps Vince has taken to ensure he gets his England berth, and while that will be at his less favoured number five – his prospects surely are in good check for the summer ahead.
Jake Ball is the most shocking of the three “surprise” call-ups – his hard work at Nottinghamshire often falls under the radar, although clearly not with Trevor Bayliss. 2015 was an important year for Ball, he sealed his place in the Nottinghamshire first-class team and became a regular in the limited overs squads for the Outlaws, too. His potential had always been monitored, after several selections for England Lions squads, and his performances for the Lions must also have contributed to this selection. Ball is tall, but not Steven Finn – has a good action which leads to a repeatable line and length and enough pace to put to use at international level. His real breakthrough into the minds of England selectors must surely have come this season, he has been in fine form for Nottinghamshire. His 19 wickets have come at 21 and have included one five-for. His recent performance versus Yorkshire where he took the wickets of England capped Gary Ballance and then the man of the moment Joe Root in consecutive balls as well as forgotten man Adam Lyth with the first ball of the innings. Ball almost single-handedly turned that match in Nottinghamshire's favour – falling one wicket short of what would have been an impressive victory. And if there was a question over who should take that last remaining spot in the England squad at that point, Ball had made it his own. Hopefully, we get to see what Ball can bring to this team at Headingley – and we don't see the same fate that has befallen others before him; Chris Woakes, the unfortunate Mark Wood and Finn but to name a few. A hopefully injury-free Jake Ball can add something to this England team.
It will be an interesting series for the Three Lions' with fresh new faces set to tackle a Sri Lankan side that lacks the star players of yester-year this really acts as an opportunity for a Ball, a Vince or a Compton to really cement their place as an England regular.
Written by Charlie Jennings (@AVCJX)
Indian Premier League, Caribbean Premier League, Big Bash, Pakistan Super League and the list goes on; domestic T20 tournaments have become a staple of the cricket calendar. They provide the big hitters of the game with large sums of money for 6 weeks’ work, with some of England’s finest International stars heading over to warmer climates to ply their trade. A small selection of England cricketers get to hone their skills against the best in the world and pick up big money – all whilst their county team mates leave the field of play due to snow and torrential rain in the opening week of the season. I know who I’d rather be…
The success of these big tournaments (mainly Big Bash and the IPL) have strengthened the call for the county game to introduce a franchise based T20 tournament. Suggestions have flooded in from ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan and never was Aussie skipper Shane Warne on how this could be achieved. The main idea that has been conceived has been to join our counties forces across the UK and introduce a 10 city tournament. This would require combining Surrey and Middlesex, Yorkshire and Lancashire, Sussex and Hampshire…basically any rivalry out there. All the while introducing the world’s best to our county game and reducing the chance for the next Buttler, Billings and Broad a go in the 1st team.
Many professionals highlight that the only way for our young cricketers to improve in this form of the game is to play closely alongside Gayle, De Villiers etc. Yet this argument seems to hit a wall when you look at Stokes, Buttler, Roy and the list goes on within our own domestic game. A World T20 trophy and recent appearance in the final seems to indicate we are doing something right.
So why when we watch Big Bash and IPL do we feel there is something more exciting than our domestic T20 tournament? Something bigger and better? Well firstly, we actually watch it. Sky covers every BBL and IPL game, yet I often have to scroll through Twitter to keep up with scores around the county from the various T20 games. So the fixture list needs attention, or maybe even the broadcasting. What I would give to see a ‘Match of the Day’ related to T20 cricket, it would give air time to the teams who find themselves on Sky less than the ‘big’ teams such as Leicestershire (though multiple winners?!), Glamorgan et al. It would also bring more interest to the tournament as a whole, as the runs, wickets and catches taken would be there for all to see, not just those in attendance. This brings us nicely on to that very subject of attendance…
IPL and BBL have big advantage over our T20 blast – the weather. This can dictate so much on the financial impact of the tournament. It doesn’t matter if you have Tendulkar and Bradman facing a new ball partnership of Wasim Akram and Brett Lee – if it rains, no bugger will turn up. So by squeezing the tournament into a short period during the height of summer is the best way to ensure people attend and enjoy the game, though as well know this is no guarantee – we can only show best endeavours and hope for the best! Big Bash and IPL seem to have a bit more luck with dry evenings, must be the climate...
The other way to increase attendance and interest is ticket prices, and I applaud many counties for the work they have done on this topic. A lot of counties now offer a ‘child for £5’ if accompanied by a full paying adult which is fantastic, the more kids we can bring through the gates and get invested in the game the better. They will soon become the lads berating the opposition fielders with a pint of IPA in their hand, unknowingly funding the groundsman’s wages as they fall further under the influence and turn up to their Saturday league game feeling less than fresh. It’s also for the good of the youth of the UK, it’s a summer evening and kids should be outdoors breathing in fresh air and falling in love with the best sport in the land.
There is a down side to the ECB focusing on improving the T20 game too much, from next year our County Championship season will be reduced from 16 games per season to 14 – a shame in my eyes and in the eyes of many a ‘purist’ out there. This has been muted as a small change ahead of the broadcasting rights being up for negotiation in 2020 (ironic eh?). Hopefully our two-tiered competitive County Championship isn’t affected by this, and will continue to thrive and provide fantastic Test talent such as Messieurs Root and Cook. Whilst giving our one-day game continued impetus since Andrew Strauss went upstairs at the ECB and changed the status quo.
In summary, I’d like to point out that I am not coming up with a revolutionary idea to fill the ECB coffers and ensure England win T20 tournaments for the foreseeable future. We don’t have 81,000 seaters like the MCG, or 30-degree weather almost guaranteed. We will always struggle to get the kind of investment that the IPL has had as we have counties with heritage, not teams begging to become ‘franchises’ (and lets not begin to talk about the IPL’s fixing scandal problems). But we should embrace our T20 blast for what it is, great entertainment and a far better quality of cricket than we give it credit for. We just need wider coverage, greater accessibility (prices and Friday evening games) and our best players available, meaning the likes of Broad and Stokes are given leave by the ECB to play at least 50% of the games.
I’d welcome your thoughts and ideas on England’s T20 tournament – and am always happy to debate and discuss the subject and anything else cricket related at @linford88
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