Thursday, May 28, 2015

When charges of corruption in sport are made what should a commercial sponsor do? A personal story.

Fifteen years ago I was responsible for Shell's sponsorship of the Sharjah cricket tournament. It was, in the context of big global sponsorships, small beer. But in the Middle East and especially because of TV  coverage in South Asia, it was a valuable commercial activity where the returns well exceeded the modest cost.

As a cricket nut I personally enjoyed the close involvement I had with the sport and, particularly, the relationship the sponsorship gave me with cricketers and the media. From Sachin Tendulkar and Richie Benaud downwards! But this close contact, especially with cricket writers and commentators, meant that I soon learned that all at Sharjah was not what it seemed to be. In 2001, when I was still in the Middle East and responsible for the sponsorship, Jonathan Agnew the BBC Cricket Correspondent said this:

"Sharjah has been pinpointed as being the centre of this activity [match fixing] and, again, this is entirely plausible. I. would swear under oath that two of the dozen or so matches I have witnessed on that desert ground over the years were fixed: both of them by Pakistan."

What Agnew was saying was the same as others close to events had been telling me "in confidence" for a while. So what should I do? Shell's support of the tournament was in itself perfectly respectable and above board. The allegations of questionable practices at Sharjah were just that - allegations. I did nothing. Later the Condon enquiry into corruption in cricket whilst not giving Sharjah a clean bill of health in 2002 did report that:

"They have implemented whatever we recommended. I am happy with the measures taken here (Sharjah) to prevent silly access to potential corrupters," 

My own view is that there was something of a cover up going on for reasons that are unclear. Certainly the focus on "corrupters" - referring to Sub-Continent illegal bookmakers - was only part of the problem. To fix a match or events within a match you need more than crooked bookies - you need crooked players and/or officials as well ! From 2003 for seven years no more One Day Internationls were played at Sharjah which may be a coincidence, or it may not ! 

For a commercial sponsor, as those of FIFA are now finding, mud can stick if what you sponsor is of questionable integrity. But it is not as easy as it might seem. Sharjah was not a significant problem for Shell or the other sponsors - but it could have been. Should I have pulled the plug as soon I was aware of the allegations? On reflection I probably should have...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

New boy Wood fails to trouble Kiwis

It is not uncommon for bowlers new to international cricket to trouble batsmen in their early matches. Debutant Henry took four wickets in England's first innings and only just missed getting on the famous Lord's honours boards at his first attempt. But Mark Wood blazed no such trail yesterday. The "high spot" was the dismissal of Guptill off what after an umpires' review turned out to be a no ball. Otherwise it was a competent but wicketless debut for the Durham seamer who conceded nearly five runs an over and rarely looked threatening.

The Kiwis top four is as good as it gets and there will be more difficulties for Wood and the rest of the England attack today one suspects. The trials of Wood, and the disappointing debut by Lyth on the first day, show up two of England's real problems before The Ashes. We don't have an opening pair at the moment - a concern made more acute by Cook's poor recent form (that one innings in Barbados aside). The Trott experiment was a daft failure and Lyth (if it is to be him) has just three Test innings at most before he faces Mitchell Johnson. As far as England's attack is concerned the Aussies won't be shaking in fear with only Anderson truly world class at present. Broad's bowling hasn't fallen away as much as his batting, but he caused the Kiwis few problems yesterday. Ali is work in progress. Stokes is lively but inconsistent and Wood adds nothing over and above Jordan who he replaced.

Today England may turn the match around and even get a first innings lead - but it's unlikely. More likely is that New Zealand get sufficient runs to put England under real pressure in their second innings - and sadly we know from all too recent evidence what that can lead to !

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Too many layers at the ECB - the job Andrew Strauss is going to is unnecessary

In my Shell days one of the sometimes fashionable policy imperatives was "de-layering". Essentially the idea was that if you removed layers in the hierarchy it improved efficiency and the quality of decision-making. It generally worked as more empowered people were more motivated and their job satisfaction was higher. It forced delegation and removed some of the exercising of "Position Power" by which empires were built. The fewer the layers the faster the communications and the quicker the decisions. 

Which brings me to England cricket. Here is a simplified representation of the recent vertical hierarchy of the ECB:

1. Chairman (Giles Clarke)
2. Chief Executive (David Collier)
3. Managing Director (Paul Downton)
4. Team Director (aka Head Coach) (Peter Moores)
5. Team Captain Alastair Cook 

The personnel have changed/are changing  and we understand that Andrew Strauss is being brought into the job at 3 vacated by the sacked Downton. Tom Harrison is now in the job at 2 and Colin Graves in the top job at 1. It remains to be seen whether there will be changes at 4. and 5. as well.

Personalities play a part of course. Clarke was authoritarian and very much in charge. He took all the key decisions (including, almost certainly, that to sack Kevin Pietersen). So what do they all do - and do we need such a heavily layered structure at all? My contention has always been that the job at 3
. is superfluous. If you have a good Chief Executive and a good Head Coach why do you need a layer in-between them? Surely Strauss, a player and with no significant coaching experience, can add little to what Moores  (or whoever) does? Similarly he has no real commercial experience and has never run a business so what use in these areas is he likely to be to a skilled CEO such as Collier or now Harrison? Downton, who did have that experience, floundered so it is hard to see how Strauss can succeed. Too many chiefs is a bad policy leading to confsed accountability and decision-making. Itseems  that the ECB is perpetrating its mistake. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

England cricket needs to put on a Happy Face

Well how was it for you my fellow sufferers here in Barbados - all ten thousand of you? You battled to get flights and a hotel and tickets. And paid a lot for all three. You dressed up loyally in the gear to go to the Kensington Oval. You shouted yourself hoarse, cooling your tonsils from time to time with a can of Banks. And for what? To see one of the most spineless and incompetent England cricket debacles of all time. And when it was all so quickly over, when young Blackwood hit the runs that gave the West Indies a deserved victory at the end of the third day, what next? Maybe, like me, you expected a few words of acknowledgment and an apology form England Captain Alastair Cook. You know something like "A big thank you to all the fans for their great support, I'm sorry we let you down". Wouldn't have been too much to ask would it? Didn't happen of course. 

At the beginning of this three match Series England was third in the ICC Team rankings and the West Indies eighth. No contest surely? But the Windies fought hard to draw in Antigua, played well in Grenada before Anderson blew them away - and recovered from a 68 run first innings deficit  in Barbados to win. Now let's be clear. The Windies No. 8 ranking is about right. With defections to the IPL they are short of top class players and those that they have like Chanderpaul and Roach are out of form or injured. They are a second rank side. Keen, trying hard but way, way short of the top teams. So where does that leave England?

On the showing in this series, and especially in Barbados, England has two genuinely world class cricketers in Root and Anderson. One promising newcomer in Ballance. And three former greats who are still struggling to recover consistent form - Cook, Bell and Broad. Buttler shows promise - especially when he is freed up to play his natural game. The rest? None has emerged in this series as worth his place at this level. Cook's captaincy and general leadership is sub-standard. There was a time yesterday afternoon when the team looked listless and their body language was awful. And at that time an energetic motivated side could well still have won the match.

So what now? I cannot see this England team having a cat in hell's chance of regaining The Ashes or, indeed, of beating New Zealand. When a couple of years ago Australia was in similiar straights they took drastic action, sacked their data obsessed coach, and brought in the motivating Darren Lehmann. That is the minimum England must do. Moores must go. Cook's depressing period as Captain must surely also end. Lets set a realistic target like Lehmann did. Play well. Play with guts. Make your supporters proud of you. Hit hard when its right to, defend stoutly when necessary (The West Indies Blackwood did just that). If you lost the Ashes series (say) 3-1 that will be a result. Build with a Coach, Captain and players who remember cricket is the greatest game in the world and its fun. To play and to watch. Let's put on a happy face!

Grey skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face;
Brush off the clouds and cheer up,
Put on a happy face.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Two second-rate teams battling to see which of them can be condemned as third-rate.

245 Runs, 77.5 Overs, 18 Wickets

It wasn't even a full day. Yes in a macabre sort of way it was exciting, but it was a far removed from proper Test cricket as it's possible to imagine. At the end of the day two second-rate teams were battling to see which of them can be condemned as third rate. I've no idea. England, woefully 39-5 after 21 overs should lose from here. But don't put it beyond the West Indies to contrive to lose either. If we look back over the two days there have been three performances of proper Test quality from the 22 players. Cook batted well in England's first innings. Blackwood the same in that of the Windies. And Jimmy Anderson bowled wonderfully well in taking 6-42. Terrific skill. That's it. Some of the rest of the batting   and bowling was briefly alright. But much of it was at best inconsistent and most of it was dross. Trott should not have been there. Bell lost any sympathy that his feeble "pair" might have generated when he let his ego refer an lbw that was plumb. Samuels did the same. The slow left armer Permaul bowled 20 overs of filth and conceded 86 runs. Ali and Root between them bowled an excruciating 19 overs of village green spin for 90 runs. 

In England's first knock three players played innings of some merit - eight did not. In the Windies first knock Blackwood was the sole player to score more than 25. For the West Indies to take five England wickets this afternoon was not because there was an Anderson-type great spell of bowling. The wickets were shared between four bowlers. It was because England batted like frightened chickens and the Windies thought "Hey, we've got these dummies on the run" - and they had!

Apparently 10,000 of us came to Barbados for this match from England. We are having a wonderful time in this friendliest of nations and enjoying the sunshine. And, as I said, the cricket has been exciting. Maybe tomorrow the two teams will remember that they are playing a Test Match. But frankly the signs are not good. The Windies soon face Australia here in the Caribbean. They'll be taken apart. As will England by both Antipodean visitors this summer. Unless a miracle happens. Dont hold your breath.