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No 102, Aug 26 - The Grumbler's County Cricket Newsletter
🟠 Metro Bank One-Day Cup record crowds 🟤 Semi-finals coming up 🟢 Meetings to change you-know-what 🟣 Expect the usual PR battle 🔵 Roach, Yadav sign for title-chasers 🔴 Isle of Wight cricket
It is rare to be aware of missing your opportunity at the very moment it happens.
Normally, only the 20/20 vision of hindsight provides that sort of clarity.
But, right here, right now, county cricket's moment is slipping away.
The summer nights are being sapped. September is close. Once the kids go back to school, it is head down and straight on till Christmas.
Like many county fans, I went to my team's final Metro-Bank One Day Cup group tie on Tuesday. It was packed. There was nothing on the game but we had only had four days of home cricket since July 22 and do not resume the Championship until next Monday, September 4.
That’s four days of cricket in six weeks, so there's no point in being a member unless you turn up at every opportunity.
Even if you somehow accept this situation, the momentum built up at these well-attended games will be lost in the last 10 days of the holiday season.
Keep all that in your mind, we'll need it later.
The reason for all this fixture nonsense, the tournament-that-shall-not-be-named, ends this weekend. Already there is a battle for messaging. Remember don't listen to players, execs and broadcasters whose careers and/or pockets will be enriched by it. However, we should certainly listen to those new fans converted by it. Not that any of the progress (especially the little on the men's side) could not have been gained through a sooped-up, well-promoted Blast. Remember this was exactly the plan put forward by Richard Gould when he was originally interviewed for the job of ECB CEO. Given his success and reputation at Surrey, the critics' jibes of impracticality really should be dismissed.
The story that it might be scrapped has been reported in many places now. Supposedly there have been meetings already. You will see my concerns about these below. I am not holding my breath on any positive change.
My issue has always been this - if a new franchise tournament, of whatever flavour, is introduced and becomes successful, do you really think that the execs, puffed up by ego and six-figure bonuses, will say "That's enough lads and lasses, we'll stop there. We said we'll support the traditional, albeit loss-making, counties who provide the players and what we have done has undermined their ability to develop. So fair's fair. We'll hold our line and keep it steady now."
Bollocks, they will.
Look at almost every major sports organisation and you only see more, more, more. This is why FIFA tried for a World Cup every two years and, having been beaten on that, will have 48 teams next time. After the European Super League failed, the Champions League has become bloated and clubs are trying to jettison less valuable domestic commitments that help those in the lower leagues. Though different dynamics exist in international cricket, franchise cricket adheres to the more, more, more schema.
That is why my concern is not what the-tournament-shall-not-be-named is, it is what it will consume. August will not be enough for it soon. And the lack of honesty, transparency and downright skullduggery over its true purpose means I have never trusted the ECB on their strategy. Though, tellingly and typically, most of the people responsible for it have gone.
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Listen to Adam Collins' intro (to 3.15) on a recent episode of The Final Word podcast. He’s a likable commentator but many a true word said in jest. I get it entirely. If you do not come from these shores or were not brought up on the county game. You have no dog in this fight. But the lack of experienced media voices with a wider view, undazzled by the hype and resistant to the unsaid influence of those renewing their contracts concerns me.
But I fear this is all part of what the UK has become now. Huge inequalities in wealth are masked by culture wars and waved through by compliant or plainly client media. Just listen to this experienced media critic on Murdoch’s influence in the UK. They misdirect us with weeks of stories on TV personalities' peccadillos which, though immoral, probably did not see crimes committed. But fail to focus on corruption over Covid contracts or other areas in which they almost definitely were. This robbed the public purse in a time of unprecedented poverty in the modern UK. (By the way, did you know kids in this country are now growing up shorter than those in Europe? This is a marker of severe poverty.)
A couple of people in the last few weeks have called me a “depressive” or a “moaner” because I link the problem of politics and society to those in cricket. Maybe. But they did not argue with what I said, only the way I said it. However, it is the shrugging acceptance of we Brits that worries me. Just compare our approach to the erosion of our pension rights to the French. And, when it comes to climate change, we agree it is a fast-approaching, existential threat to the human race but put the pursuit of more money over protecting the earth and gleefully look to destroy the ‘zealots’ who actively protest that this is irresponsible selfishness. It is not as if the extra cash goes to those who need it.
I see county cricket like the Proms, the Royal Ballet, the National History Museum, important totems of UK culture that should be preserved. The potential closure of a county should be protested against like the loss of a big local hospital or library. Others see sports in this way too. Or at least the important ones.
Of course, we have to refocus for the future. Change is both welcome and critical for the survival of the game. But can we start by not listening to the posh boys who always end up in charge and throw out the belief the market (or television execs) must be left alone to determine the future of a sport that provides so much in non-monetary value?
Because, to a large extent, it is this passive acceptance that has left both this country and its greatest sport in such a poor, perilous and divided state.
Also, I have set up a County Cricket Chat space on Reddit - r/CountyCricketChat
PPS I need to shift two tickets to the T20 international between England and New Zealand at Old Trafford on September 1. Face value price. Let me know if you are interested. Contact me here
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Player news - signings, contracts etc
Metro Bank One-Day Cup news
“More than 13,000 tickets were sold across the four Group B fixtures at the Cooper Associates County Ground, 25 per cent up on last season and the highest number for 50-over cricket this century.”
Unfortunately, this is not the 360-degree good news it should be. However, it does suggest a passion for county cricket in August. There is no razzmatazz, little marketing and few stars. So it has to be long-standing clubs who are the pull. And a nice day out in the summer holidays.
News, Views and Interviews
This is a crucial meeting. Here’s the list of attendees:
Chair: Warwickshire chair Mark McCafferty.
Ron Kalifa (ECB non-exec director) and Gareth Williams (ex-Glamorgan chair)
Tim Bostock, Steve Elworthy and Rob Andrew (county CEOs)
Rachel Baillache and Navin Singh (county non-exec directors)
Bruce Carnegie-Brown (chair of MCC)
Ex-officio: Richard Gould and Rob Lynch (CEOs of the ECB and PCA)
So, same old positions and faces then. OK, there is much more representation from counties but only one woman and the female game requires a clear path given the boost it has received from need you-know-what. Of course, you need people with experience in the game but I wonder how many are drawn from the seven per cent of the population who attend public school? I thought cricket was trying to sort that out and now would be a good time to start.
Crucially, there is no fan representation (by the way, fill up the Cricket Supporters Association’s latest survey). Nothing that I have seen to suggest supporters have been consulted and most of the members’ meetings I have been to demonstrate that chairs, directors and CEOs do not think the same way. (The one I attended at Essex this week was a case in point. More on that at a later date.)
After the failure of the Strauss Report due to members’ protests, you would have thought it would be considered important.
Then again, as a result of that defeat, I believe English cricket’s long-term aim will be to wrestle away any remaining power that members possess.
What a shocker! A player whose career has been helped by you-know-what can only see the upside. Leaving aside the important development of the women's game, 'what winds me up' is the lack of care and understanding towards the county game from those who were developed through it.
Upton Sinclair, who ran to be the Governor of California in the 1930s, summed it up best. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
And yes, I do see the sexism in the quote.
If you listen only to players (or television execs), you will get a game run entirely for them… but paid for by fans.
Cleanse your palette with a picture from Dave Allen, the Hampshire CCC historian. It is from their trip the the Isle Of Wight.
Yes, these are older people in deckchairs. If you think this is a problem given the way county cricket has been managed over the past few decades then give your head a wobble.
Alternatively, try not to get old because, at some point, they’ll come to destroy something you love too.
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