Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Legends of Kent cricket

Twelve is a magic number – there were twelve Apostles of course and twelve Gods of the Greek Pantheon – and now twelve Legends of Kent cricket are to be commemorated in the redevelopment of the St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury. It’s a nice idea – each of those chosen will have a permanent tribute in stone in the “Walkway” of the new home of Kent cricket. Quite how the 12 will be chosen isn't clear at this stage but as a member of the County for more than 40 years I hope that along with other members I will be in the loop somewhere. Let’s have a first go a putting a list together for others perhaps to comment on. I’ll just list the twelve name that I would select without explanation and see if other Kent aficionados would challenge my choices. So here goes (in no particular order):


  12. ROB KEY


What do you think?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Let’s have domestic cricket that matters in England…

Asking for sanity in Cricket Administration sometimes seems like asking for sobriety in the Drones Club – the call won’t so much fall on deaf ears but on narrow minds obsessed with their own political and personal games and incapable of seeing reason. In his first communication to members of MCC since becoming President Christopher Martin-Jenkins said in relation to the absurdly over-crowded domestic fixture list of 2010 “Happily a more balanced county programme is under discussion for next year…” Unhappily these discussions, as we now know, came to naught and 2011 will be as daft, fixture-wise, as 2010 was.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has a “Structure group” and those interested will note that this group has recommended shortening the domestic season – but not until 2012. We are in deckchairs on the Titanic territory here. Views vary as to how many of our current counties are in crisis but more than half of them seems a reasonable guess. That crisis comes in some cases from incompetent and even dysfunctional management. But even where the County management teams do know what they are doing their hands are tied by the commercial realities of modern-day domestic cricket.

A day at the India Test match at Lord’s next year will cost you around £100 per head – so a family visit for one day taking account of travel costs might cost £500. Why? Well chiefly because the ECB needs money to recycle to the Counties. We will be denied live International cricket on terrestrial television next year and for the foreseeable future and will need A Sky or Virgin subscription costing £600 to see it. Why? Well chiefly because the ECB needs money to recycle to the Counties. The amounts varied but each of the County P&Ls benefited from around £2million from the ECB in 2010 –remember this is OUR MONEY taken from us in ticket sales (the highest prices in the cricket world by far) and subscription TV costs.

Cricket is the most traditional of games which is why when change comes enthusiasts sometimes go into “Shock/horror” mode. Over my 60 year cricket watching life (so far) the introduction of One Day domestic cricket in 1963, a Cricket World Cup in 1975, domestic Twenty20 in 2003, an International T20 tournament in 2007 and the IPL in 2008 have (inter alia) all been seen, incorrectly, as presaging the end of the “game as we know it”. In fact cricket has proved to be more resilient that the doomsayers believed and Test cricket, for many the apex of the game, survives. County cricket is, however, another matter.

In 2010 there were 151 domestic Twenty20 matches in England mostly between the traditional 18 counties. And despite the fact that all too many of these matches were sparsely attended the same overkill will apply in 2011. In addition each county played thirteen mostly ill-attended 4 Day Championship matches and at least twelve 40 Over games. The rational for retaining this overheavy structure in 2011 is that “that many counties have already entered into commitments to playing staffs and other expenditure for 2011 and that cash flow from membership and ticket sales are vitally important in the current difficult economic climate for the 2011 season”. So despite the fact that the cricket-watching public voted with their feet to stay away in large numbers in 2010 they will be offered exactly the same fare in 2011. If at first you don’t succeed do nothing and hope for the best!

English domestic cricket needs a new, fresh look more urgently than ever and to delay doing this is short-sighted and foolish. From 2012 onwards what is needed is not a tinkering with the fixture lists but a revolutionary redesign to the whole domestic structure. We need a maximum of eight top-class domestic teams playing matches that matter both because of the quality of the cricket and the fact that world-class players (including England players) will be on display. We need far fewer and far better 4 Day and one day matches – 50 (not 40) Overs and T20. Each match should be marketable as an event at a ground with top class facilities in a competition that matters. Some of the eight city-based franchise teams might be built on the infrastructure of existing counties – but they don’t have to be.

This proposal does not mean the end of county cricket – it means that the eighteen counties would revert to being a third semi-professional and amateur tier in regional groupings which would also include the existing minor counties. A new county structure of 38 counties in this way is perfectly viable and would require few if any hand-outs from the ECB. If it took its lead from Australian grade cricket it would provide not just satisfying cricket in its own right but also act as a nursery for England-qualified cricketers who would progress onwards to the city-franchise teams if good enough. We would still be able to watch Kent v Sussex at Tunbridge Wells or Leicestershire v Derbyshire at Grace Road, but within a financial structure that would be viable and would endure.