Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Seeds of revolution sown in the Long Room

The remarkable success of William Buckland’s iconoclastic book “Pommies” in reaching the short list of four in the Cricket Society/MCC “Book of the Year” Award 2009 will have surprised some of the more traditional members of the two venerable sponsoring institutions. If they are inspired by Buckland’s success actually to read the book they will find that it is a devastating, well-researched and cogently argued assault on England cricket’s decades of failure. Central to Buckland’s argument is the comparison he makes with cricket in Australia – in every single area of cricket performance and governance England’s approach and structure lags far behind what have for years been the successful norms down under.

For Buckland’s book to reach the short list was a triumph for those who have argued for years that just tinkering with England’s archaic cricket structure will not work. A revolution is needed, and Buckland provides the rationale and the reasoning to support the case for a radical insurgency of action – and as a result that may now be at last be about to happen. Chief amongst the author’s contentions is that the traditional county structure of eighteen County Clubs is unsustainable. He advocates that there should be only five “second tier” teams (International cricket is the first-tier) based on five English and Welsh regions. The current county structure would be abandoned entirely in the interests of creating genuinely competitive second-tier cricket and of ensuring that the huge revenues of the ECB are spent far more effectively than at present.

Although “Pommies” did not win the award at the presentation ceremony in the Long Room at Lord’s on Monday 27th April (that went to the rather more traditional book of reminiscences by Cricket Society President John Barclay “Life beyond the Airing Cupboard”) the book is now very firmly launched as a major contribution about the future of cricket in England. The MC of the event was Christopher Martin-Jenkins – one of county cricket’s most vocal and passionate supporters. In his speech CMJ spent as much time on “Pommies” as he did on the other three shortlisted contenders put together and even he had to admit that “perhaps” the case for fewer first-class counties has its merits. There may be room for give and take somewhere between the extremes of Buckland’s revolution and CMJ’s hints of more gentle and measured approach. But William Buckland is unlikely himself to be too keen on compromise. For, as he so emphatically puts it at the end of his book:

“Despite the example and the lessons [of Australia] we [in England] remain clinging to the flotsam of the past like deluded children. That’s why they call us Pommies”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Twenty20 – The Future?

If it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it? True of course but has the success of Twenty20 in its present form clouded thoughts as to whether the construct as we now have it is the best that we could have? These thoughts have been promoted by watching the Melrose Sevens in Scotland and considering why Sevens Rugby is such a success – without it in any way damaging the value of the “real” rugby game (80 minutes and 15-a-side). The answer in respect of Rugby Sevens is that it is an abbreviated form of the game in every way. It lasts 14 or in some case 20 minutes rather than 80. It has seven-a-side rather than fifteen. It eliminates things like line-outs which could slow up the action. In short it is a close cousin of fifteen-a-side rugby without the pretence that it is just a sidestepping variant of the big game. It’s a sport in its own right.

Consider the Rugby precedent for cricket. The parallels are clear. Twenty20 has 40 overs rather than 100 in traditional limited overs matches. It lasts a few hours rather than a day (or more). And yet it is still an eleven-a-side game. Why? With eleven batsmen available in just twenty overs wickets are somewhat devalued. Even if you are 30-4 after five overs you still have six batsmen available to help you out of the mire. Slog your way into trouble and you can finesse your way out of it. But what if wickets were given more value – the bowlers, currently seen as being economy rather than wicket-taking operatives, would surely come back into their own?

So why not make Twnety20 6-a-side rather than eleven? Suddenly the game changes and ironically it changes back in the direction of traditional cricket (with its battle between bat and ball) rather than further away from it. With six-a-side batsmen might thrash and slog a wee bit less because their wickets would be rather more valued. And if you legislated that of the fielding side all five players (i.e. other than the wicketkeeper) would bowl four overs each what fun that would be! The Captains would have to decide when to bowl their star batters who don’t normally bowl at all – and the batsmen would have to “go for” these bowlers in order to take advantage of their more limited bowling skills.

Warming to the theme there would be no need for field restrictions or power plays. With only five outfielders the captains would have to think hard about field placement. Putting them all on the boundary wouldn’t work because with the opponents only having six batsmen you have to go for wickets don’t you? Indeed the fielding captain would have a great challenge in respect of handling his bowling attack given that he knows that all of his players must bowl. Why not – bowlers have to bat, so why not have a rule that in the shortest from of the game batsmen have to bowl?

The recognition that Twenty20 is a different game from traditional cricket is surely not too great an intellectual leap to make. The creation of a revised version of the game that restores the balance between bowler and batsman and makes wickets valued (which in proper cricket they must surely always be) is a step forward. And the idea that all cricketers have to bat, bowl and field like panthers is surely an appropriate interest-raising novelty – and good for improving the for the athletic image of the game. Worth a try – why not?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


1ST APRIL 2009

The "England and Wales Cricket Board" (ECB) is calling for suitably qualified sports institutions to bid for one of eight Superpro franchises which will commence operations in the 2010 cricket season.

The Superpro franchises will receive substantial financial support from the ECB including assistance towards operating costs, capital investment programmes and promotional and other expenses. In return each franchise will offer the ECB the following:

At least one sports stadium and associated infrastructure capable of hosting international cricket matches attended by at least 30,000 spectators - and preferably 40,000.

State of the art and suitably staffed coaching facilities including an indoor cricket school, medical and fitness facilities etc. To include a Head Coach of international standard supported by coaches covering all physical and mental aspects of the game of cricket.

A squad of players identified as meeting the highest standards as measured by cricket's "Centre of Excellence" and all of whom are on contracts for at least two full seasons. The squad would be expected to comprise around 18 players of whom no more than two should not be qualified to represent England now or within the next two years.

Teams selected for the Superpro franchise will compete in Four-day and Limited Overs tournaments during the English cricket season. These tournaments will be well sponsored and well funded. Each Superpro franchise will be allocated three players who are currently on England central contracts and these players will appear for the Superpro franchise, at no cost to the franchisee, whenever international commitments permit.

With the establishment of the Superpro franchises ECB support for existing County Cricket Clubs will cease. It is expected that some existing County Clubs will wish to bid for a Superpro franchise along with other suitably qualified institutions such as Football, Rugby and other sports clubs.

Applications to the ECB at Lord's Cricket Ground.