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No feeling for the game? Cricketers in most countries do not have administrators they can respect and trust. Take Sri Lanka, where a recent board president and chairman have both been dragged through the courts, yet their senior players are admirable not only as cricketers but as human beings. To my mind, Muttiah Muralitharan deserves even more respect for his humanitarian work than for setting a new world record of Test wickets in Kandy last December.
Cricket in most countries is run by businessmen, along with politicians in Asia. The argument for the former (the latter are unavoidable) is that cricket is just like any other business. Cricket, however, is a sport above all else. Suppose the best French businessman was headhunted to run the England and Wales Cricket Board or the International Cricket Council. Assuming he knew nothing about cricket, his appointment would clearly be unacceptable. A knowledge of the game, and a feeling for it, are essential.
But from my perspective, as a cricket correspondent who has toured with England for 30 years, too few administrators know and feel. When the television camera has picked out the hospitality box containing administrators, never yet have I seen one of them watching the game through binoculars. As a whole, they are interested not in how the game is played but in how much money can be made. I am not for one moment suggesting the game be run by former cricketers alone, because they will not have the worldly, business skills; but there must be some mixture of the two.
Read the indictment With the deadline approaching, it is an appropriate moment to ask whether the ECB is living up to its mission statement target “for England teams to come first or second in the ICC Test Championship, the ICC One Day Championship and in the World Cup or Champions Trophy by 2009”. Points for consideration: • Other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, England are the only Test-playing
country never to have won a global one-day tournament. • Far more domestic one-day cricket has been staged in England than any
other country (over 8,000 competitive county matches since 1963). England’s failure to win a global tournament proves the domestic structure is unfit for the national purpose. • England have never hosted an A international. Therefore their A-team
seldom play the best A-teams abroad, and never Australia A. Therefore English one-day cricketers find it even harder to bridge the gap between domestic and international level. • England have lost nine of their last ten Ashes series, winning nine Tests
to Australia’s 34, the most one-sided period since the 1880s. • When the next Ashes series starts in July 2009, England are unlikely to
peak. They will have been actively engaged in 40 of the 41 previous months. Australia had four months off after winning the last World Cup. • England ended 2007 in fifth place in the ICC Test rankings and seventh
in the one-day rankings.
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• Two key recommendations in the Schofield Review have not been
implemented and show no sign of being: that players at England level, and at county level, should play less. • England’s experience in the first Twenty20 tournament in South Africa
was the same as in the World Cups. They went into it with far more domestic experience than any other country (five seasons of it) but lost four matches, beating only Zimbabwe. • The number of people watching live Test cricket on television has declined
from an average of 1.2 million per day in the Channel 4 era to Sky’s 246,000 in 2006 and 286,000 in 2007, according to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board. (Various caveats have to be built in: principally, this is their figure for in-home viewing and does not include audiences in bars and clubs, in either case. It is also shown that Sky have a higher percentage of young viewers.) Although the ECB’s own figures show increased participation in grassroots cricket, both male and female, and increased funding in a five-year plan, the diminishing profile of role models on live television can only be damaging. • Finally, of the several England cricketers who have shown signs of
greatness (Michael Vaughan in 2002-03, Steve Harmison in 2004, Andrew Flintoff in 2005, Kevin Pietersen then and since), none has gone on to achieve it on a consistent basis. Something appears to be holding our best cricketers back and dragging the England team down.
Perverse priorities A new book compares the structure of cricket in England and Australia. It is called Pommies: England cricket through an Australian lens, by William Buckland, an English management consultant. His essential point is that the ECB is killing the goose that lays the golden egg by making the England team play almost all of the time. They have to stay on the road in order to generate 80% of the English game’s revenues. The 18 first-class counties, put together, generate only 20%. Yet they take more than half of the England team’s profits. (The counties might argue that they produce the players who generate most of the money; but if that is a fair principle, why do they not share their money with league clubs who do as much to produce England cricketers?)
“The purpose of a national sports team is to win and to please the entire country, man, woman and child,” Buckland writes, rationally. “But the business strategy of the ECB is effectively to deny access to the England cricket team to most fans in order to raise the price paid by richer ones. They now cough up excessive sums for ground and television access that the ECB then gives to county cricket to pay overseas players to play in front of pitiful crowds at county grounds. Apart from its patent economic absurdity, this strategy is a perversion of the ethic of a national sports team.”
Buckland makes some other startling points which, in the aggregate, go a long way towards accounting for England’s decline since the Ashes victory of 2005. He identifies the ECB’s priorities as being: 1. Sustaining county
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