Tag Archives: ECB

Today’s history making event is unnecessary. 

History has been made today – unlike the bogus history of last week’s WWE Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder match genuine history. For the first time in history a full round of English County Championship matches started at 2pm instead of 11pm, will be played under lights ( even though we are only a week removed from the longest day of the year !) and with a pink ball. Revolutionary change ( unlike the so called WWE “Women’s Revolution) but unlike that so called “revolution” totally unnecessary. There was no demand from the English counties for the change.

So why was it done? Simple. England are playing a Test match under lights and with the pink ball against the West Indies starting on August 17th at Edgbaston so this round of County Championship matches is being played under lights with a pink ball in order to prepare England’s elite players for this match. But there was no demand from England’s players or fans for a floodlit pink ball Test in England. So why is this Test taking place?

The answer is because of a spineless, pathetic capitulation by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) which could cost England dear in this winter’s Ashes series. In November 2015 (see previous post “Test Cricket Joins the 21st Century”) Australia played New Zealand at the Adelaide Oval in the first ever floodlit/pink ball Test. The next year Australia played South Africa and Pakistan in floodlit/pink ball Tests at Adelaide and Brisbane respectively. The Tests were great successes all won by Australia and all attracted bigger crowds than the day only Tests played previously in the same cities. So Cricket Australia (CA) asked the ECB to agree to play a floodlit Test in the 2017-18 Ashes series and shamefully they agreed so the floodlit Ashes Test will be played at Adelaide starting on December 2nd. But the ECB should not have agreed to this. And here’s why.

The only raison d’être for day/night Test cricket in my opinion is to increase attendences. But the Ashes always sells out – regardless of whether it is played in England or Australia. If the Ashes always sells out why have a day/night Test? The answer is that CA have laid a trap for England and the ECB have walked straight into it. Australia are used to playing with a pink ball – they have played and won three home Tests with it. So if they could lure England into accepting the day/night Test it would give Australia a big advantage. And the pea brains at the ECB did just that.

But of course they could not send England to Australia this winter without any experience of pink ball cricket hence the Test against the West Indies in August and hence why they had nine pink ball County Championship matches starting today. But again there was no demand for pink ball day/night cricket in England.

So in summary to appease Australia the ECB have agreed to two unnecessary pink ball Tests – as day/night Tests are unnecessary in England (where Test cricket has always been well supported). Because the ECB was too spineless to tell Australia where to go. Playing a floodlit Test in England in August is asking for trouble. And it is so unnecessary…

PS – if you read previous post “Test Cricket Joins the 21st century” you will know I am in favour of day/night Tests.  But – and this is the caveat – only as a way of boosting attendences. Ashes Tests – plus Tests in England generally – do not have problems attracting spectators. Plus the climate in the UK is not suitable for day/ night pink ball Test cricket. Therefore these Tests are unnecessary.

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How to sort out English T20

Although the english cricket season started on April 10th the season starts for real this week. Tomorrow the first Test of the summer – England v Sri Lanka at Headingley – begins. While on Friday the  English domestic 20 20 competition – the T20 Blast –  starts. So where does the England Test team and the English domestic T20 competition stand at the start of the season?

England’s Test team come into the summer in good heart after their 2-1 win in South Africa in the winter. They play Sri Lanka in a three Test series followed by Pakistan in a four Test series. England are favourites to win both series but they cannot underestimate Sri Lanka after Sri Lanka ‘s famous series win in England in 2014. However back in 2014 England were still in turmoil after the Ashes series whitewash the previous winter while Sri Lanka still had the experience of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. But now Jayawardene and Sangakkara have retired and England are in a far stronger position than they were in 2014 they are clear favourites. What worries me about England is still the batting. Three of the top five – Alex Hales, Nick Compton and debutant James Vince – have played just 17 Tests between them. If England are going to keep improving and build on their South African success at least one of these batsmen must break out and establish themselves as Test class and reduce the dependency on Alistair Cook, Joe Root and allrounders Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes. The fast bowling attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Stokes and Steve Finn is the team’s strength and should lay the foundation for Test victories. England should aim to have an unbeaten Test summer which in recent years England have only achieved in 1990, 2004 ,2011 and 2013 but with Sri Lanka and Pakistan ‘s batting both fragile looking England have a chance of going through the Test summer unbeaten.

If only English T20 cricket was in such good health. On the field it is. Had Stokes bowled a better last over England would have won the World T20 in India last month. But England’s domestic T20 competition is a mess. First of all it goes on far too long. It starts this Friday (May 20th). The group stage does not finish until July 29th! We will have had an EU referendum, two Grand Slam tennis tournaments, five England Test matches and the whole of Euro 2016 happen before this bloated yawn fest of a group stage finishes. It takes 126 games to reduce 18 teams to 8…and seven to reduce those eight to one champion. Plainly nonsense…and it must change.

Some people want franchise/city teams in English T20 cricket but as I explained before (see previous post “Why the Big Bash Won’t Work in England”) city teams (for population reasons) and franchises (for reasons of tradition) won’t work. If you were creating English cricket from scratch you would not have 18 counties. But the fact is you do. We have to work with what we have.That doesn’t mean English T20 cannot be improved. It is a shambles. And to quote Adam Blampied of What Culture WWE “And I can do it better”.

First thing first. Reduce the number of games. Currently there are two groups of nine teams who play six teams twice and two once. Which makes fourteen games a team. Which is (a) too many and (b) an uneven and unfair schedule as some teams will play the best team twice and the worst team once or vice versa. The logical thing to do is have the nine teams play each other once which makes eight games per team (as in the Big Bash). It would mean that the total number of qualifying games would fall from a bloated 126 to a more sensible 72.

Secondly T20 has to be played in a single block in the season. India, Australia, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand all do this. England do not. This causes two problems. It is hard to attract T20 specialists to England when the tournament is so long and there are long gaps between games. It also means that players have to switch from four day cricket to T20 cricket and vice versa which is ridiculous as they are totally different forms of the game. It is like playing tennis on clay, then grass, then back to clay then back to grass and here we go round the mulberry bush…

Some might say when do you play the T20 block? Easy. T20 is meant to bring to cricket the whole family especially school children. So why not hold T20 when school children are on holiday? They do this in Australia – the Big Bash is played in December/January which is summer holiday time down under – and England should do the same. In which case T20 would be played in late July/August (the T20 Blast group stage this year, as you might recall finishes on July 29th just as the school holidays are starting – genius by the ECB!)

Another problem is TV coverage. T20 in the UK is only on Sky Sports – a subscription channel. In Australia the Big Bash is on Channel Ten – a free-to-air (FTA) channel. Now one problem in the UK is that the five main FTA channels – BBC 1 and 2, ITV, and Channels 4 and 5 – will not alter prime time schedules of soap operas and reality TV in favour of cricket. But there is a way round this. Sky has a FTA channel – called Pick. If I was running the ECB I would encourage Sky to show one T20 game per round (a total of eight) on FTA Pick. In return Sky would be allowed to show all 72 games on their subscription service Sky Sports. Subscribers would be able to press the red button and choose which game they want to see – as Sky and BT Sport do with football ‘s Champions League. This gives cricket a FTA platform while also giving people an incentive to subscribe to Sky.

A T20 tournament played in a short block where children can watch and some games are on FTA TV is far better than the convoluted shambolic mess we have now. If they have the sense to get rid of Finals Day – when the Semi Finals and the Final are played on the same day which is far too long for the attention span of children who I repeat again should be the target audience of T20 – and replace it with a best of three Final series – that would be even better.

T20 cricket will never be as big as it is in India or Australia simply because the UK cricket fan prefers Test cricket plus the fact that unlike India and Australia cricket is not the number 1 sport here. But we can do better than the shambles of a tournament we have now. My plan would both preserve the current 18 first class counties while giving England a better chance of attracting the elite T20 specialists and producing a game that children – who I repeat should be the targeted audience – can watch during their school holidays. It is not perfect. But it is far far better than what we currently have.

Why the Carneiro affair can only be bad for Chelsea and football

Chelsea’s women’s team play the most important game in their history next week when they play host to two time former champions Wolfsburg in the second round first leg of the Women’s Champions League. In many ways Chelsea have a good record – by UK football standards anyway – when it comes to women. They have invested in their women’s team who have won the League and Cup double in England this year. The team has a female manager in Emma Hayes – the only female manager in Women’s Super League (WSL) 1 in 2015. While in Marina Granovskaia – owner Roman Abramovich’s right hand woman – they have one of the most powerful women in UK football.

So in theory Chelsea are a progressive club. But there is a big cloud on the horizon. The Eva Carneiro affair – which I wrote about earlier – rumbles on. Since I wrote about this affair it has been announced that not only is Carneiro taking Chelsea to an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal she is also taking individual action against manager Jose Mouriniho saying that Mouriniho victimized and discriminated against her by banishing her from the Chelsea bench back in August. This means Mouriniho would be forced to appear at an industrial tribunal in person to explain his behavior.

The only way this could be avoided is that if the two sides settled out of court. If I were Abramovich I would do anything to settle this – even sacking Mouriniho if that is what it takes. Because if this goes to an industrial tribunal this will not be good for Chelsea – or football for that matter. The reason for this is that football – and sport – lives in its own world and under its own rules. But an industrial tribunal follows the rules of society not the rules of football or sport.  And history shows that in a dispite between the rules of sport and the rules of society there is only one winner – and it is not sport. (Why do you think FIFA has a rule that a club can’t take them to court?). Four examples will show what I mean.

In 1977 the Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer signed up 35 of the world’s best cricketers for his rebel World Series Cricket. The International Cricket Conference (ICC) outraged banned the players from official cricket. Packer responded by taking the ICC to court. The judge Justice Slade ruled in favour of Packer saying that the ICC by banning the players were inducing them to break their contracts with Packer which was illegal. The rules of cricket had been trumped by the rules of society.

Something similar happened to football in 1995 when Jean-Marc Bosman a journeyman Belgian player went to the European Court saying that clubs demanding fees for players out of contract plus the restrictions imposed on foreign players at the time were against European Union (EU) law. The court agreed with Bosman and both transfer fees for out of contract and restrictions were declared illegal. FIFA and UEFA still moan to this day about the Bosman ruling but they were only learning what the ICC had learned back in 1977. The rules of football had been trumped by the rules of society.

Again in 2004 the same thing happened to handball. The German Handball League were taken to the European Court by Slovak player Maros Kolpak who said that rules saying that teams were limited to two non EU players (Slovakia was not an EU member state at this time) were discriminatory. The court ruled in his favour.The handball authorities moaned but again the rules of sport had been trumped by the rules of society.

The last case is similar to the Carneiro case but in cricket. In 1998 Theresa Harrild took the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to an industrial tribunal for sex discrimination. Harrild was a receptionist at the ECB. She had an affair with – and got pregnant by – a colleague at the ECB Nick Marriner who then abandoned her. The ECB put pressure on her to have an abortion and she was given £400 to pay for the abortion which she had. When she returned to her job she suffered from depression and was eventually sacked in her own home by ECB deputy chief executive Cliff Barker who offered her more money and made a pass at her. The tribunal found in her favour partly because the ECB had such contempt for the law they did not even bother to turn up at the tribunal. But again despite the ECB’s arrogance the rules of cricket had been trumphed by the rules of society. More to the point cricket had been dragged through the gutter and been exposed as sexist and unfit for civilised society (to be fair to the ECB cricket has cleaned up its act since).

And that is why it is in football’s best interests that this never gets to the tribunal. It is highly likely that football will be dragged through the gutter be exposed as sexist and unfit for civilised society. There will be a lot of muck exposed in this case. In the interests of football there must be a settlement out of court. If that means Mouriniho has to be sacrificed for the greater good of football in my opinion so be it.

KP for England? No way

Can someone be sacked even before they start their job? Probably not – which is a pity. For Colin Graves the chairman-elect of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – who starts his job in May – has made a terrible start by suggesting that Kevin Pietersen could return to the England cricket team.
As cricket fans will know (and even a lot of non cricket fans) Pietersen was sacked from the England team in February 2014 after the awful Ashes tour. The reasons for his sacking still apply. The guy is an egomaniac who fell out with most members of the team in Australia. Now some – including Pietersen himself – blamed other members of the team notably Matt Prior and Grahame Swann who are now out of the team. That would be fine if that was the first team he has ever fallen out with. It is not. In his career Pietersen has fallen out with Natal in his native South Africa (2000), Nottinghamshire (2003), and Hampshire (2010) plus two England coaches (Peter Moores and Andy Flower) and two England captains (Andrew Straus and Alistair Cook). You get the picture. The guy is in the wrong sport. Actually it is a non sporting person – UK chat show host Graham Norton – who summed it up best. When Pietersen appeared on his show in October last year to promote his book – Norton said “Reading the book it strikes me that maybe, just maybe, team sport’s not for you?”
What annoys me about Pietersen is this myth promoted by his mouth piece Piers Morgan, that he would be the messiah that improves England’s struggling World Cup team. First of all the England team lost their latest World Cup game not because of the batting but because of hopeless bowling that let Sri Lanka score 312-1 in 47.2 overs with embarrassing ease. It was men against boys. Pietersen is not a bowler. He couldn’t have changed that result. Secondly England have suffered two 5-0 Ashes whitewashes (2006/7 and 2013-14) and two dreadful World Cups (2007 and 2011) and Pietersen was in the team on all four occasions! What makes people think he – and he alone – could improve England’s World Cup team?
Add to that the fact he is 34 years old. He has a history of knee injuries. And he hasn’t batted well since 2012. In his last year of Test cricket he scored 767 runs at an average of 33.35 in 12 Tests with one hundred. This compares to his career average of 47.28. In One Day international (ODI) cricket in his last year he scored 256 runs at an average of 28.44 with no hundreds compared to a career average of 40.73. There is no reason for putting him in the Test team as young batsmen Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali are beginning to make headway and need more experience. Why should one of them be dropped for KP?There is no reason to put him in the ODI team either. If as seems likely the current World Cup campaign ends in a flop England should start preparing for the next World Cup – in England in 2019 – at once. By 2019 Pietersen will be 38 years old and is unlikely to be playing anyway. So the only justification for picking him would be for this year’s Ashes. I know the Ashes is important but to pick a guy for one series? A series that England last time were humiliated in despite Pietersen being in the team?
Another problem with what Graves is saying is that the ECB chairman does not pick the team the selectors do. Is he trying to undermine the selectors? There are rumours he might sack National Selector James Whittaker and England team managing director Paul Downton but as they have only been in post for a year that is very unfair. You need more than a year in a job to prove yourself. I suspect coach Moores might get the sack but as this is his second spell in the job that is a different case. He should never have been appointed anyway. His first spell was a disaster. The guy was out of his depth and fell out with most of the team – as well as Pietersen. Nothing seems to have changed. He is still out of his depth.
The last thing the England team needs is the return of the KP circus as it was an over hyped unwanted distraction from the team’s real job – winning cricket matches. Ironically Graves tries to justify opening the door to KP by saying “what happened in the past is history”. But that is the point. KP represents English cricket’s past. It is time to move on to the future.

Why the Big Bash won’t work in England

One of the good things about January – and there are few – is to wake up in the morning and find there is live sport on TV. This is because January is “Australia month” with live sport from Down Under – which is 11 hours ahead of us – on UK TV. Apart from the Australian Open one of the main highlights has been the Big Bash League (BBL) Australia’s domestic 20 20 cricket competition which has provided great entertainment and which has had much higher crowds than its English equivalent the T 20 Blast. Critics both here and Australia say the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) should try and emulate the BBL but the facts are that this is that this is impossible to do.
First of all the biggest advantage Australia has over the UK is its climate. Anybody who watches Wimbledon will know the UK summer can produce very hot sunshine (1976 for example) or very heavy rain (1997 which was so bad the first round was still being played on day six) or something in between. An extreme example was 1975 when on June 2nd parts of the UK saw snow. Buxton in Derbyshire – which is at altitude – saw an inch of snow. The fact is the UK climate is totally unpredictable and would hinder any attempt to emulate the BBL here.
Another problem is that the BBL is a city-based franchise event while in the UK cricket is county based. A lot of people would like the ECB to bring city based franchises to the UK but it just won’t work. First of all most of Australia’s population lives in or near cities while most of the UK’s does not. And the cities are losing population. One way to measure this is the number of MPs each city elects to Parliament (which is based on population. If population goes up a city gets more MPs when the boundaries are reviewed. If population goes down it gets less MPs.) At the 1955 General Election the five biggest cities in England (London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester) elected 103, 13, 6, 9 and 9 MPs respectively. At this year’s General Election London will elect 77, Birmingham 9, Leeds 5, Liverpool 4 and Manchester 3 – reflecting the fact that in the last 60 years the population movement has been from city to suburb. City teams will disenfranchise most of the population. And as for franchises – in the UK it is a no-no. The one US style movement of a sports team in a major UK sport proves this. In 2004 Wimbledon Football Club moved to the new town of Milton Keynes. It caused so much uproar Wimbledon fans formed their own team – AFC Wimbledon – which has done very well and is now just one division below the Milton Keynes Dons who are one of the most hated teams in the UK. No one will dare do that again.
The other difference between England and Australia is that cricket is the most popular sport in Australia. Admittedly that is by default. Football is more popular but their fans are split between four codes – soccer, rugby union, rugby league and Australian Rules football – and as each of them has its own “heartland” it means that in Australia cricket is the only sport that unites the country. In the UK soccer is by far the most popular sport so it gets the publicity and the money cricket gets in Australia.
And that is why the BBL is on free to air (FTA) TV in Australia while its UK equivalent is on Sky – a pay TV channel. FTA channels do not like sport unless it is a huge event like the Football World Cup or the Olympic Games. Cricket is not popular enough to be on a UK FTA prime time scene dominated by soap operas and reality TV shows – however much some people in cricket wish it could happen they have to face reality.
That doesn’t mean we can’t learn things from Australia. Since T 20 cricket is aimed at attracting schoolchildren to the sport it should be played when the schools are on holiday – in England’s case late July/August. To have a sport aimed at children being played when they are at school is nonsense. Also the ECB needs to look at prices. If a family of four wanted to watch a BBL game in Melbourne it would cost them $AUS 42.50 (or £22.69 in UK money). To watch a T20 Blast match in Leeds it would set the same family back £74. The counties should regard T 20 as a “loss leader” not a “cash cow”. As they are all subsidised by the ECB they don’t have to make money anyway so why not make it cheap for a family with children to watch like they do in Australia?
If I was running T 20 here it would be played in late July/August with the 18 teams split into three groups of six playing four teams once and their local rivals twice -making it six games per team plus Quarter Finals Semi Finals and a best of three Final. I would get rid of Finals Day – the day where the Semi Finals and Final are played. It goes on far too long – from 11am to 10 pm – for the attention span of children – who as I keep saying are T 20s main audience.
While England’s T 20 will never be as popular as the BBL it could definitely do better than it has done. It is time – to quote former UK Prime Minister John Major – to “go back to basics”. The format I’m proposing is more or less what it was when T 20 launched so successfully back in 2003. But the counties got greedy and have paid the price. Going back to few matches in a short window is T 20s beat chance of being popular here. Everywhere else in the world does it this way. Why can’t we in England?

Moeen Ali, sport and politics

As well as writing this blog I sometimes comment on stories on the Daily Telegraph’s website. The debates can be “interesting” but I’ve never caused so much trouble as I did with my comments on the Moeen Ali affair. So I’m using this platform to explain my views on this issue.
For those who don’t know Moeen Ali is an english muslim cricketer who during the third Test between England and India came out to bat wearing wristbands saying “free Gaza” and “save Palestine”. The ECB who run english cricket said he’d done nothing wrong but the ICC the sport’s equivalent of FIFA banned him from wearing them. To my mind as a human being concerned about the death of children he had every right to comment on that issue. But the Telegraph’s readers slaughtered him coming out with that old chestnut “sport should be kept out of politics”.
There is one problem with this argument. Sport can’t be kept out of politics. The late great Nelson Mandela would confirm this. As did ex Pakistani cricketer Asif iqbal when he said “Sport is politicised the moment nation states take the decision to enter the sporting arena under their national banners” (Anyone but England, Mike Marquesee, page 250) Or Jennifer Doyle when she said “there is no such thing as an apoltical space” (The Sport Spectacle, Olympic Problem, August 2013). Sport is part of the real world. So is politics. They can’t avoid each other.
That raises the question: Why does the sporting establishment want to keep sport out of politics? What I am going to say now is just my theory. It might or might not be true.
I think – and most people would agree – that the sporting establishment can be racist, sexist homophobic, authoritarian and corrupt. Some governing bodies might be all of the above. As Margaret Talbot* says “sport remains one of the most conservative and inflexible areas of public life, lagging far behind other social structures”. Jean Williams has said “In England at least the topic of women’s sports should be more politicised” (A Game for Rough Girls? page 150). And Des Wilson ** asked “is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be unique in its ability to be so?”. Wilson has hit the nail on the head. The sporting establishment does not want to be accountable for its behaviour so by spreading the myth that sport and politics should be kept apart it prevents itself from suffering its worst nightmare. An independent regulator for sport as suggested by William Buckland in his book “Pommies” (pages 264-5) something that other industries face. Put simply the sporting establishment wants to do whatever it likes.
There is one irony though. By choosing dictatorships to host sporting events – from the 1934 World Cup to this years’ Winter Olympics – the sporting establishment causessport to be politicised as dictators from Mussolini to Putin use sports events as their “political plaything”. The sporting establishment in my opinion likes dictatorships – no pesky free press or protesters to worry about – so much so they don’t even realise they are bringing politics into their own events – the one thing they say they don’t want to do.
As for Moeen Ali yesterday he took six wickets to help win the Test match for England while being cheered by the crowd. That suggests either the public forgave him for his protest – or that they thought he had done nothing wrong in the first place. Either way the bigots of the “Torygraph” and the ICC are out of touch with the British public. Not for the first time…
*She was speaking at a European Women and Sport conference in 2000, but what she said could still apply today.
** Des Wilson is an interesting man. A New Zealander who came to Britain in 1960, among other things he founded the housing charity Shelter, stood as a Liberal candidate in Hove in 1973 and February 1974 and was the campaign manager of the Lib Dems in 1992. He was also a director of BAA plc and has written books on poker. He took a job at the ECB in 2003 but resigned a year later when he made the quote I used above. Described as an “anti-establishment radical” it will surprise no one that he is not now a Lib Dem and has been scathing about Nick Clegg (although he left the Lib Dems long before 2010). What does surprise me is that he took a job with the conservative and establishment ECB in the first place and it was no surprise to me he didn’t last long.