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Comment while earnest and well-intentioned – damaged the image of the game, and of the ICC itself, because any organisation which keeps on tinkering and making new announcements loses respect.
Value for money Lest it be thought I have been too critical in these pages of the ECB, let me bring the reader’s attention to the good which they do. They have spread out an umbrella under which staff and many, many volunteers do invaluable work for club or school cricket. In addition to promoting women’s cricket in the way it should be, during 2009 the ECB have: • donated £2m to Chance to Shine • made grants (so much more useful than loans) of over £2m to recreational clubs • donated £400,000 to Lord’s Taverners • given more than £3m to the 38 county boards to spend on their development operations • spent another £3m on development managers and officers, and on age-group and Minor Counties cricket • spent over £800,000 on subsidising and administering coaching programmes for everyone below elite Level 4 • had to cough up £650,000 a year on child protection, in the form of Criminal
Records Bureau checks. (Ludicrously, the government insist that even a regular club scorer now has to have a CRB check. A child cannot go into the scorer’s box and ask for his or her stats without this bureaucracy.) Personally, I would like to see a little less of the development budget going on coaching and a little more on providing basic playing facilities. While covering England’s one-day series in South Africa, I visited the Galashwe township in Kimberley, where Loots Bosman grew up and learned his cricket at a club called Yorkshire, and another township club in Port Elizabeth, called Gelvandale, again with very few resources, which has produced three Test players in Ashwell Prince, Alviro Petersen and Wayne Parnell. What children need if they are to play cricket are sunshine, space, a true surface of some kind (it doesn’t have to be turf initially: Prince and Petersen grew up playing for one street against another), and a bat and a taped tennis ball. These are inexpensive items, if not always easy to obtain. Coaching comes later; and role models are necessary too. Bosman, I should add, is still the only indigenous African batsman to have represented South Africa.
Add up all the ECB’s sums and you can just about allow their claim that they invest 20% of their total cricket expenditure on development. What should be debated is how the rest of their net income – mostly generated by the England team through broadcasting deals – is spent. Well over half of it goes in distribution fees to the counties, only for them to do what is sometimes not in the national interest. If the first-class counties accept over £2m a year each, as they do, they should feel obliged in return to raise standards by reducing the amount they play and to mirror international formats.
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Less stress for Strauss It is nothing less than outrageous that the England team is flogged into the ground primarily to subsidise the counties. One by one, the England players last year – after climbing the summit of their Test match profession by defeating Australia – fell off their perches. In the one-day series alone, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Paul Collingwood, three of the pillars of England’s one-day side, had to be rested; and Anderson picked up a knee injury that dogged him the whole winter. It was indefensible to schedule a flight to Belfast the day after the Ashes, and for England to be forced to play ten limited-overs games in the four following weeks, then stuck on the plane next day for the Champions Trophy.
Restraint, not rotation, is the answer. It was fine to rest Anderson for England’s tour of Bangladesh, and consistent with English cricket’s tradition of allowing fast bowlers to miss a tour. Otherwise, the 11 best cricketers must take the field, in a mentally and physically fit state. (It is surely no coincidence that Australia have fallen from grace at the same time that their programme has been increased almost to England proportions.) To field an England side packed with replacements, because the main players are exhausted, would be to defraud spectators, viewers, broadcasters, and the game itself.
It was an eloquent condemnation of the ECB’s scheduling, and their failure to implement a key recommendation of the 2007 Schofield Report which they themselves commissioned, when Strauss felt unable to lead England on their tour of Bangladesh. All England’s modern captains have been stressed out by the job, but it happened to Strauss after a single year. He and Andy Flower had rapidly become as fine a pairing as Michael Vaughan or Nasser Hussain with Duncan Fletcher. Strauss had led England to the Ashes, and a shared Test series in South Africa, and had regenerated their 50-over side. When England played without him, they lost a 20-over game against the Netherlands at Lord’s. Strauss and his players deserve better treatment from their employers.
Test of champions Calls for a Test championship play-off have grown louder, but a fair and workable plan has yet to be proposed. If every one, two or four years, the top two countries meet in a one-off final, far too much weight could fall on the toss. The best team can be decided only by a full Test series. This is why they were invented.
Until a workable way is devised, it is up to administrators to organise the Test programme far more coherently – if they truly want the format to survive. India played South Africa, in India, in a three-Test series in 2008 and again in a two-Test series less than two years later in early 2010. This is lamentable: far better to stage one series of five Tests, identify the stronger side in all conditions and, over two months, engage the attention of the whole cricket world. Instead, India and South Africa decided the top place in the world Test rankings – in India’s favour – on the inadequate basis of two games.
This summer will offer a taste of what a Test championship play-off would be like, when Pakistan meet Australia at Lord’s and Headingley: the first
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