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Notes by the Editor
10 argue that the gap between county and Test cricket is so wide that another tier, regional cricket, is needed. It seems unlikely to happen, but its very presence in the debate is further confirmation that the county structure is failing England. An England squad system, giving players more time to practise and work together as a team, would be more worth while than a regional tier. The success England have enjoyed abroad these past few winters is a strong argument in favour of developing the squad system at home.
In fairness to the counties, there are simply not enough good young English players coming into professional cricket to sustain an environment that produces Test cricketers. The Australian board are able to put 25 cricketers under contract; the ECB manage just a dozen. That can’t only be a matter of economics; England would be hard pushed to name 25 ready for international cricket. Take out the centrally contracted bowlers – six last year, three from Yorkshire – and the standard of county bowling is deplorably low. Batsmen hit 118 more centuries in 2001 than in the previous year and twice the number of double-hundreds. The other counties can only envy Yorkshire’s bowling depth; England are merely covetous.
The counties themselves acknowledge the paucity of home-grown talent by increasing the intake of overseas players with British passports or flying the European Union’s flag of convenience. There were ten in 2001; the Professional Cricketers’ Association estimate a 150 per cent increase in 2002. Many come from South Africa, where political decrees on team selection and the country’s changing economic circumstances hamper the career prospects of young white cricketers. They won’t be able to play for England without meeting the ECB’s qualification requirements, but they will have their salaries subsidised by income generated by Team England.
All aboard the academy express In the meantime, seven counties are receiving £50,000 each towards accredited local academies that will identify players aged between 13 and 18, and help them become first-class cricketers. The need for these academies is a sorry commentary on the way sport, especially cricket, has been downgraded in schools by greater emphasis on exams, the selling-off of sports grounds and the paperwork that absorbs teachers’ time, energy and desire. The problem is not new but it has taken cricket time to address it.
It was not so long ago that Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the ECB, was calling the counties themselves English cricket’s 18 academies. This was back when the media wanted a national academy along Australian lines; last year their demand was met. It had become so apparent that the so-called “academies” were not producing the right calibre of cricketer to mix it with the best that the board bowed to the inevitable and hired an Australian to do the job properly. Admittedly, they didn’t have any premises at the time; happily Rod Marsh, the man they appointed, knew just the place and so England’s National Cricket Academy began life at the Australian Academy in Adelaide, where Marsh had previously been director. New Labour are trying something similar with the National Health Service, sending patients abroad for treatment.
All rights reserved. You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this content in any form or by any means. Notes by the Editor
Living on borrowed time In the same way that the board chairman called the counties “academies”, his chief executive Tim Lamb took to calling them “centres of excellence”, which did nothing for the counties but made him sound like one of those well-spun politicians whose peculiar notion of excellence is applied in defence of failing institutions. Last year he took to describing the counties as “businesses”. But, as the farming industry is currently debating, what happens to the business if the subsidy diminishes or disappears?
Given that the ECB’s television agreement expires in 2005, this is not idle speculation. Channel 4’s viewing figures for cricket have dropped each year since they began to televise the game in 1999. They put a brave face on this, comparing reductions in audiences for other sports. But however the numbers are interpreted, they mean fewer people have been watching cricket on television, and falling figures are anathema to any broadcaster dependent on advertising income. Cricket may not be living on borrowed time; some counties clearly are. I suspect there is already a tendency to let the weakest go to the wall. Natural wastage, businessmen call it.
Cities, not counties Maybe that’s the answer; it is pragmatic, and lately English cricket has been learning to live with pragmatism. But it would add interest to the debate to hear something more radical being discussed; something that would take into account England in the 21st century rather than the 19th. It has become an urban society, built on cities and conurbations. Why not a professional circuit based on these, rather than on shires and counties, however romantically their names resonate? The grounds are already firmly established in cities.
It is a given that cricket does not exist on membership and gate money. Total membership for the 18 counties in 2001 was 128,234, with Yorkshire attracting 15,331 and Derbyshire 1,877 (including 16 dogs), a fair reflection of their Championship positions if ever there was. But one in every 330 adults in England and Wales belonging to a county cricket club is not a fair reflection of the national interest in cricket. It demonstrates mostly the extent to which professional cricket has to market itself. Becoming part of a city’s life by name as well as location would assist this process. The cricket club could incorporate civic identity, and benefit from the commercial and sponsorship opportunities such an association would provide. Yorkshire would doubtless claim to be an exception.
Assuming the globalisation of cricket continues apace, it will be only a matter of time before there is a television-driven demand for international inter-city tournaments. Cities are marketable commodities in a way that counties, states and provinces are not. This may seem fanciful now, but looking ahead often does. Cricket may never have the lion’s share of the television sports market in England, but it has immense potential elsewhere. English cricket should not simply be aware of this potential but positioned to exploit it when the opportunity arises. Cricket has trundled along traditional lines for a long time, but the pace of change and growth is faster now than it has ever been.
All rights reserved. You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this content in any form or by any means.