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”

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