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No 105, Sept 17 - The Grumbler's County Cricket Newsletter
🦊 Leicester's Metro Bank Cup win cheers county game 🟠 Durham's deserved promotion 🔴 Maynard leaves Glamorgan 🟣 Davies retires 🔵 Middx in 'special measures' 🟢 County 'released player' lists
What a lovely week.
First, we had Durham finally returning to the top flight after being stitched up by the ECB back in 2016 (see below). Then, on Saturday, little old Leicestershire, the type of county some seem to want to leave behind, beat Hampshire to lift the Metro-Bank One-Day Cup final in a last-ball thriller.
Alas, Trent Bridge was not full. Then again, alas the game was not at Lord's like the one-day finals of old.
Still, a very vocal contingent from a few miles away backed the Foxes throughout. From what I saw on the television, this was the Friday night T20 crowd. Yes, pale and male but also young and drinking ale. There were many Leicestershire bucket hats but quite a few in Leicester City garb. Fortunately, the football Foxes had played on Friday night so maybe a few joined their cricket mates for a day out.
These are the depths of community support.
I studied in Leicester for a few years and while the Tigers are a rugby powerhouse, it is a small city so the football and the cricket Foxes have batted well above their average in the last couple of decades.
There were lots of locals in the Leicestershire team and I loved the one-on-one engagement with the crowd afterwards. Hopefully, they will come back to Grace Road next season. When I went to Kibworth for the Metro Bank tie with Essex (see video), I met Sean Jarvis. The CEO has big plans and I am desperate for them to bear fruit because if Leicestershire can thrive then 18 first-counties can survive.
Like Durham, this story is based on local talent overcoming adversity. The northeast county were hit too hard by the ECB over their debts, see below. It says a lot about modern sport that financial or commercial misdemeanours are often over-punished but social ones, especially racism, are often underpunished. (Here too)
"To some, community, identity, meaning and belonging are waining themes in modern sport, given that all the trends run counter to them. Higher salaries and the rise of player power and, latterly, franchises that have a shorten lease on the calendar have meant a move towards a more fluid labour market in cricket. This, in turn, has frayed those bonds with community clubs.
“Players see themselves, more than ever, as open to bidding to maximise a short career, rather than representatives.
“Both clubs are well supported, and the joy that accompanied their achievements this summer emanated from far more that Somerset’s frequent near misses and Durham’s recovery from previous financial travails. These are clubs with a strong identity, with close links to the communities around them, populated by players, therefore, who mean something to the supporters. At a time of increasing transience in the cricketing landscape, these are successes to welcome."
So value and nurture them then. Swap short-term cash for long-term resilience. As George Dobell argued in the Talksport Cricket podcast this week, English cricket will never have as much money as the Indian game. So we have to create our appeal around something else. The Premier League is having to do this right now as they have finally come up against someone with deeper pockets.
The great strength of great British sport is great British history and great British support. We pack out the Paralympics as well as the Olympics, the National Conference as well as the Premier League, the mixed doubles final as well as the men's singles final, the utterly unmarketed Metro-Bank group games as well as those cricket tournaments that spend £6m a year on fireworks alone. This does not happen overseas. As we found out in the pandemic, professional sport is sterile without fans while the true USP of Premier League has always been the culture behind the game. The best players have just followed the money. Always have, always will.
Leicestershire beat Hampshire by two runs in Trent Bridge thriller to win the One-Day Cup and their first List A trophy in 38 years as Harry Swindells rescues them with unbeaten century and bowler Josh Hull holds his nerve (Mail)
Premier League football throws billions at foreign talent but only a few have the ability, tenacity, professionalism and personality to have a truly long-term relationship with the British game. The players who do - Bergkamp, Zola, Kompany, Di Canio et al - become legends. We learn so much from them. But most arrive, play, earn and go home. If you perform then fair enough. If someone is prepared to throw money at you to create sporting success and you do everything you can to justify this unjustifiable wage then we would all scoop up some for ourselves.
But there are few songs about that jobbing right back from Croatia who held down a place for three years before taking the first step towards retirement by moving to Turkey or the US. Yet, fans are very quick to point out if a youngster or long-serving talent is "one of our own". The Leicestershire choir sang as much on Saturday.
Fans want their sporting heroes to have the same depth of feeling as themselves and, frankly, project those values onto them most of the time. We are happily fooling ourselves to a certain extent but, on the other hand, the backlash is strong when a footballer leaves for petro-dollars or a cricketer takes the franchise rupee without showing respect for the club that brought them through.
Until now, English cricket has been capable of being more meaningful, largely because most players have rarely moved. At the last round of Championship games, I spotted John Lever (Essex 1967-1989) and Ray East (1965-1984) strolling around the stands at Chelmsford all day like a couple of old club mates. Which, of course, is exactly what they were.
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These days, the business of sports constantly chases success at, literally, all costs in the belief that silverware solves everything. That allows players with elite skills to demand more and more through their agents. To fund this, sport must bend to the whim of television paymasters and commercial concerns. But the truth is that supporters, if truly ingrained in their club at an early age (most often through family, location or a star player, not marketing ad spend) rarely leave their team through straight-forward, simple lack of success. Although, to use Atherton's words, the bonds can become frayed.
I doubt many Leicester City fans have switched to treble-winners Manchester City following relegation last year. That incredible Premier League win and FA Cup victory are still fresh in the memory. The owners have spent money to deliberately connect with the fanbase too.
In truth, it is the ‘frayed bonds’ of meaning that force us to turn our backs on our sports and our teams. Terrible leadership, unchecked greed, poor fan engagement and facilities, arrogant uncaring communication, poor strategy, constant changes in formats and wasted resources all multiply the disgruntlement caused by an ongoing lack of on-field success. Supporters do not need their team to win a trophy every year, they just need the hope that, in the next few years, they might. If there's a plan and we are moving forward then most are OK. The rest is about connection, community and feeling valued. Though not monetarily.
Of course, a sport that has been allowed to leave state education, taken off terrestrial television, led and played by the seven per cent of the population who go to public school, has not responded to changes in media consumption and has been dominated at county level by an ageing membership resistant to change will never connect in the first place.
A generation has been lost, English cricket failed to capitalise on the T20 revolution it started and somehow has left itself playing catch-up
Perhaps we need a reset by changing the governing body and, more importantly, the type of people who run the sport.
Remember, when Durham were harshly relegated in 2016 (see below) their membership went up for the first time in eight years. When Leyton Orient dropped down to the Conference for the first time ever their season ticket sales soared to a 16-year high. When Manchester City dropped to the third tier they averaged 28,000, in their record-breaking, much-hyped, title-winning season 10 years later their true attendance was only 10,000 more.
On Saturday, little old Leicestershire were followed to Nottingham by numbers we did not think they had any more. It might be football-inflated but it is organic, not artificially pumped up with cheap tickets and a mud-slinging approach to marketing.
We all accept cricket needs a new, more diverse, audience. We are told the only route is the best-paid players, the most followed influencers, the biggest social media ad spend and the brightest fireworks.
I say no. Redirect just a fraction of your player budget to bolstering your community scheme, getting bigger and better (and better-paid) administration staff who can deliver more, improving your fan experience and forging a proper connection with your local schools. Then get a television deal that supports the game, not runs it.
Deep roots of meaning and identity, rather than the shallow metrics of marketing and social media we can no longer trust, should be the foundation of county cricket’s resurgence.
Also, I have set up a County Cricket Chat space on Reddit - r/CountyCricketChat
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Players and coaches - contracts, released, departures
Released: Derbyshire: Godleman, Watt, Lakmal, Wood, Harrison. McKiernan (retired). Essex: Nijjar, Buttleman, Rymell, Kalley
Click on a team name for a different preview
Derbyshire vs Sussex
News, Views and Interviews
This week’s headlines on Middlesex talked of a £150,000 fine and points deductions, but everything apart from a £50,000 hit was suspended.
Likewise, Yorkshire’s punishment by the Cricket Disciplinary Commission following allegations of racism was effectively just a £100,000 fine. Another £300,000 was suspended while the 48-point deduction in the Championship had little effect as they were not going up from Division Two anyway. Laughably, they were also docked four points in a Blast tournament that had already finished.
But here are Durham’s punishments as part of a £3.8m financial aid package in 2016.
Relegated from County Championship Division One
Docked 48 points in the next season’s Championship, four points in Blast, two points in the One-Day Cup
Ordered to work to a stricter salary cap in the next three seasons
No prize money until their debts to the ECB are cleared
Scrap their management board
No longer host Test cricket
Prevented from spending any more money on developing the ground without prior ECB approval.
These are very different offences so no apples-to-apples comparison is possible. But suffice to say, the ECB threw the book at Durham. But that was under CEO Tom Harrison and there were issues of governance throughout his regime.
Finally and deservedly, they returned to the top flight this week.
Speaking of punishments, here’s Hampshire's response to this last week. CDC sanction Hampshire following 'below average' pitch (ECB)
Listen to the end of the Talksport podcast for the latest on this from George Dobell.
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