Friday, September 29, 2006

'Everything stops for tea...'

In the previous post regarding ‘time’ games, I overlooked a slight variable, which sometimes gets thrown into the equation - the ‘fixed tea’. You’ll often get this where several pitches share the same facilities, so that when you toss up you’ll be told that ‘tea is fixed for 4.45’.

The assumption is that declarations will be timed for the tea break, and for the most part the timing will fit with the plans of the captain of the side batting first, or he can adjust his team’s tactics to suit.

Obviously there are exceptions – sometimes the side batting first will pile up runs quickly enough to be able to declare well before the allotted time, giving them the opportunity for a quick crack at the opposition openers before the cellophane comes off the egg sandwiches. Alternatively, side 1 will be bowled out early – and then the chance for a few overs against a couple of batsmen ready for tea may well be crucial.

Sometimes, however, a teatime declaration just isn’t feasible for other seasons as illustrated in the following (true) story – a story that has achieved ‘legend’ status within my club side.

The Legend of the late Declaration

It was an away game in one of the charming idyllic towns along the Thames Estuary during the early years of the ‘Thatcherite Junta’.

Several of us got lost negotiating the Chatham one way system, so the game didn’t start until 2.30, and we were instructed of a ‘fixed tea at 4.45 because there’s a wedding reception in the pavilion tonight and the catering staff need time to prepare.’

Batting first on a green, painfully slow wicket, against accurate bowlers operating an overrate that can charitably be called ‘laborious’ we limped in at teatime on 73-8. As we walked off at tea (I was one of the not out batsmen) their team was justifiably bullish – comments about ‘this not taking much getting’ were being bandied around.

Over tea our skipper made the perfectly logical decision that 73 would be a suicidal figure to declare on and that we would bat on – hopefully to around 100. The two of us resuming our innings after tea wandered out to find their openers already padded up and raring for action. A few pithy words were exchanged and eventually we were able to continue batting for an ‘interesting’ spell of cricket.

The level of sledging from the opposition would have made Matthew Hayden blush. Additionally, defensive shots were met with groans, whilst every run was sarcastically applauded. Finally, after fifteen minutes of fun and games we were all out for 93 all out – leaving the opposition fifty minutes plus twenty overs to get the runs.

‘Let’s bowl as many as possible’ came the call from our captain. He’d figured, correctly, that run making was not easy, and that we had the ideal bowling attack – two metronomic opening bowlers coming in off five paces, and a variety of spinners and other steady medium pacers to keep things tight. If wickets started falling, we’d need to bowl as many balls as we could to try and force a win.

Every side will start off with enthusiasm – keeper and slips running to their places between overs to calls of ‘turn it round quickly lads’ and so on, but we managed to keep it up way beyond the normal time when reality sets in.

Early wickets fell as they found run getting as hard as us so that by the start of last 20 overs they were 26 for 4, and we’d already bowled nineteen overs.

So then we opened the game up! Our secret weapon was, and still is, a left arm googly bowler coming in off two paces and giving the ball enough air to pass over low flying aeroplanes. Other bowlers maintained control at the other end, but ultimately what’s accorded this game ‘legend’ status is the bizarre madness that overcame us in the field. We were determined, to the point of blinkered obsession, to bowl as many overs as we possibly could, so every trick was employed, even to the extend of moving into place for the next over as last ball of the previous over was being bowled - a very dangerous trick if you’re running straight towards the batsman from short mid wicket and the bowler sends down a long-hop…

We were changing between overs in a matter of seconds – eventually shaming the umpires into moving quickly. Few runs were being scored as the batsmen started to adopt the ‘rabbit caught in headlights’ look – stunned by the blur of perpetual activity in front of them.

Adding to the sense of drama, dark clouds rolled in

Wickets fell regularly and we ended up playing ring-a-ring-a-roses round the number eleven bat and daring each other to move ever closer so that by the last couple of balls our short leg was virtually reaching under the bat as the batman played a defensive shot.

The final score was 61-9, and we’d bowled a total of 46 overs – against the 42 we’d received. Our left arm googly bowler, normally used to figures like 10-0-65-3, had an analysis of 9-7-5-3….

The subsequent session with the opposition was heavily lubricated by the free bar on offer at the wedding reception.

The following year we visited the same ground to be met with an opposition skipper with a determined glint in his eye informing us – ‘tea between – ok?’ The ‘ok’ was little more than a punctuation mark, and not an invitation to debate…

Monday, September 25, 2006

'Time' Gentlemen, Please (The Main Event)

You might like to refer to the 'Prologue' below before reading this. Alternatively, the quote below gives a summary of what you've missed and provides a good starting point;

To cut a very long, and very depressing, story short, Opposition batted first. By 4.30, they had made 250 for 3. By 5 o'clock, they had 326 for 6 whereupon the declaration came. When it was our turn to bat, the Opposition bowled fourteen overs in the first hour (by which time we were 80 for 2) Every time one of our batsmen play two consecutive scoring shots, the field went back to the boundary. By the end of the game, we were 190 for 5.
In a nutshell, the problem is that a whole generation, weaned on the delights of limited over league cricket, is growing up with no idea of how to play enjoyable, friendly cricket on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, teams are trapped within the sterile constraints of limited overs – with all that implies in terms of limited enjoyment and limited scope for imaginative thinking.

Let me say at this stage that this is not an ‘anti league cricket’ diatribe. There’s certainly a place for the hard-fought league game on a Saturday afternoon – and before you start wondering, I’m quite happy to get heavily involved in a sledge-enriched grudge match every now and again, but sometimes you just reach a stage where the result isn’t the be-all-and-end-all and what you’re after is a decent, competitive game played in the right spirit with an exciting finish, and the subsequent convivial atmosphere over a few beers.

Limited overs accentuates differences in strength between the teams. I’m not saying you should give the game away to a weaker side – but by playing a more flexible form of the game you can ensure that the game is more enjoyable, and that more people actually ‘get a game’ – a common problem on a Sunday where teams are likely to be made up of a certain percentage who might play one game a month and naturally expect some sort of involvement – rather than sitting in the pavilion at No. 10 in the order, and standing around in the outfield for a couple of hours.

In addition, it can broaden the scope of who actually gets involved in the game. For example, a young fourteen year old leg spinner is hardly likely to get much of a bowl in a 40 over game with the inherent risk of 3-0-29-0 on the cards – but in time games, 3-0-29-0 might not be such a problem if you’re trying to open a game up – and it can well turn into 9-0-64-5 – a match winning performance. (We’ll deal with the ethical question of a fourteen year old buying a jug of beer at another time!)

A few years ago the Club Cricket Conference published some research, which said that 40% less people are playing club cricket than did 20 years. Lots of reasons were bandied around, but without trying to sound like some crusty old traditionalist, might I suggest that a prime reason is the fact that Sunday cricket just isn’t as enjoyable as it used to be.

Having got some theory out of the way, let’s get into practicalities and reconsider the scenario highlighted in italics at the top of this post.

It’s clear from what I’ve already posted that the opposition had a very strong side (in batting at least), and that the wicket was a perfect batting track. In limited overs cricket the scenario is simple, score as many runs as you can in your overs, and then do everything to keep the runs down when you bowl. Having to actually bowl a side out to get a win, however, provides a different, more interesting, challenge.

So what should/could the visiting skipper have done to force a win. In simple terms the answer is ‘not be afraid to lose’.

1. Be prepared to declare early. Give the opposition a chance to get the runs, and equally, give yourself time to bowl them out. The object of the game is to win – to do this you might just have to run the risk of losing. A side going for the runs is going to take more chances, and therefore run the risk of losing wickets, whereas on a perfect batting track it’s nigh on impossible to bowl out a side taking no chances.

2. Keep your options open and be prepared to open the game up. Chasing 230 plus to win, a side batting second needs a good start to keep them interested – maybe open with one of your stock bowlers and an occasional spinner. Ideally, after 15 overs the score will be something like 70 for 2 – and you get to the last 20 overs with the target around a run a ball or just over.

3. Keep flexible – don’t just stick to a pre-decided plan. For example, 70-2 might be ideal after 15 overs, but 40 for no wicket might not be any use to either side, and 100-1 at the same stage might be bad news for you, so try not to let things get too out of hand either way.

4. Don’t defend too hard – but then don’t over-attack. If a batsman is in and set, it’s not worth surrounding the bat, but conversely, don’t ring the boundary with fielders.

5. Obviously you don’t want to give the game away. Try and make sure the side chasing are always just behind the clock, but not so far as to make victory inconceivable. It’s a fine balance. Often it can go wrong and two batsmen you’ve tried to encourage to open up grow in confidence and can’t be reined in early enough to save the game.

6. Keep something up your sleeve – a ‘go to’ bowler who you know can keep a batting side in check. But don’t overuse him otherwise the chasing side might fall behind the clock and settle for a tame draw.

What’s the better game – the boring draw scenario outlined above, or a game where the side chasing ends up winning in the last over with nine wickets down? If you’re obsessed with Win/Lose statistics maybe the former, but if you’re after enjoying an afternoon’s cricket with 21 other people, and the resultant evening shooting the breeze in the bar afterwards – then I’d choose the latter.

It’s not always going to work – sometimes the disparity between the sides to too great, or sometimes one side just won’t have the personnel to go for a victory, or bowl the other side out, so you get these sorts of games: -

Side A - 140
Side B – 141-2 with 8 overs to spare

Side A – 190-7 declared
Side B – 126-6

But there’s no such thing as the perfect system and the best thing to do in these circumstances is to take the opportunity to give some occasional players a game.

As someone who’s tried and failed, I can safely say that captaining this sort of cricket is a fine art. Conversely I’m convinced you could programme a computer to captain a 40 over game – just input all the relevant details of the teams, bowling strengths and the situation at the end of each over and let the machine do the rest.

A side we play against call time games ‘boring’ – maybe you’re not doing it properly Dave…

Postscript - After posting the prologue below, I got a comment back from Harrowdrive linking to a post he'd already made on this subject. The post can be found here.

This is excellent stuff. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this should be printed off and stuck on the wall in every cricket changing room around the country, and reading it should be compulsory for everyone wanting to captain a club side next summer.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

'Time, Gentlemen, please' (Prologue)

For some weeks, I've been drafting a post on the subject of Club Cricket - specifically the ongoing debate between 'time' games and the limited over variety in friendly (non league) games.

For various reasons, it's still not ready - but to whet the appetite here's the transcript of a conversation I had last summer which provides some sort of contxt within which the debate has been taking place.

The scene is my club side's home ground on a Sunday afternoon last year. As skipper for the day, I'm wandering out to toss up with the visiting captain:

Me - 'Usual tea between and twenty from six-thirty?'
Oppo - 'What?'
Me - 'Start when we're ready, tea between innings, and start last twenty overs at half-past-six'
Oppo - 'We only play 40 overs'
Me - 'Even on a Sunday in non-league games?'
Oppo - 'Yes'
Me - 'Well, we rather play time games'
Oppo - 'Oh. How many overs then?'
Me - 'It depends'
Oppo - 'What time's tea?'
Me - 'Between innings - either when the first side is bowled out, or when they declare and set a target'
Oppo - 'Ok, what time normally?'
Me - 'Normally around 4.45ish - depending on how many runs they've got, and how much itme they think they'll need to bowl the other side out'
Oppo - 'Bowl them out?'
Me - 'Yes - otherwise it's a draw'
Oppo - 'But how many overs?'
Me - 'It varies - but normally the side batting first will get a few more, but side bowling first gets to use the new ball - so it sort of balances out'
Oppo - 'Ok then - but if we bat first we're having 40 overs'
Me - 'Regardless of how many runs you've got?'
Oppo - 'Yes'

To cut a very long, and very depressing story short, Opposition batted first. By 4.30, they had made 250 for 3. By 5 o'clock, they had 326 for 6 whereupon the declaration came. When it was our turn to bat, the Opposition bowled fourteen overs in the first hour (by which time we were 80 for 2) Every time one of our batsmen play two consecutive scoring shots, the field went back to the boundary. By the end of the game, we were 190 for 5.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Don Bradman and the USA

Around the turn of the century, almost every magazine or newspaper ran an obligatory 'Best of the 20th Century' feature. Some of these were entertaining and interesting ('Wisden Top Five Cricketers' for example) whilst some had all the attraction of root canal work without anaesthetic ('The 5 greatest Tory Home Secretaries'...)

As a devotee of American sports, one feature that caught my eye was a poll run by the US magazine 'The Sporting News' (TSN) listing the '100 best Sportsmen of the Century'. TSN has long been the leading weekly sports publication in the US - the equivalent over here would be if Wisden Monthly, Rugby World, and the Guardian Monday Sports Section merged.

Michael Jordan over Muhammad Ali for the No. 1 spot was a somewhat controversial call which got a lot of publicity in the States There are quite a few NBA enthusiasts over there who wouldn't even put Jordan number one in their sport alone, mainly those who remember Bill Russell playing for the Celtics.

Beyond that, it was the omissions that caught my eye - very few non-American sportsmen - Pele, and a couple of Olympians and a couple of Canadian hockey players (Gretsky above Orr - ouch!), and absolutely NO cricketers whatsoever.

No expecting any joy, but needing to vent, I dashed off a quick e-mail to the author of the accompanying article, Dave Kindred, pointing out this omission. Rather than provide a list of deserving causes I stuck with just one name - Don Bradman, with a brief statement to the effect that there would be little dispute in cricketing circles that he was the greatest batsman who ever lived.

To my surprise I received a reply back within 24 hours. 'Many thanks for the note, and I appreciate your comments. I've heard about Bradman but know very little - can you fill me in?'

I resisted the temptation to recommend one of the many biographies of the great man, and - remembering the American obsession with sporting statistics, offered a simple line. In Test cricket, where a batting average of 40 is considered acceptable, 50 good and above 60 extraordinary - how does 99.94 grab you?

Back came the reply - 'Wow! - Tell me more!'

So, during an e-mail correspondence that lastest around six months I expanded the story - the legend of the golf ball and the cricket stump, the 'bat for a hundred so he got three' story, the amazing run feats, how he was so dominant that efforts to contain him caused a diplomatic crisis between Australia and Great Britain, his historical significance for a nation, and finally, the second ball duck at the Oval in 1948 when 99.94 could have become a hundred.

At the same time, Kindred - who is one of the most respected sportswriters in the US, was doing his own research elsewhere. After a while, the e-mails stopped. Bradman died in 2001, and I sent a link to the Guardian obituary, but as there was no reply I assumed that the subject had died and a jounalist's intrigue had been satisfied.

Imagine my shock, therefore, when I opened the 23rd April 2001 edition of TSN and found this. (Link)

For completeness sake, here's a link to the letters TSN published the week after. The first (Lance from Champaign, Illinois) is sadly predictable, whilst the last (Joshua from Melbourne) is an absolute classic!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sweet Sixteen?

Some random thoughts on the touring party - plenty more of this sort of thing to come!

Strauss - With Tresco's problems, Strauss is going to have to be the rock on which any large England score is going to be built, at least until Cook comes to terms with the Australian bowling attack and conditions. He was the only person to get two centuries last summer and once he got over his 'Warne phobia' (which he did through a load of hard work) was always a safe bet for a decent score.

Mahmood - At the moment he reminds me of Norman Cowans - young, raw, very quick with bags of potential but very likely to suffer the odd 12-0-78-0 kind of day. On the other hand, he's also as likely to produce an inspired 4-10 spell that could turn a match. Not quite a direct replacement for Simon Jones, but we could do a whole lot worse.

Harmy - Someone really needs to tell him his fortune, and make it clear that it's time he really stepped up and produce the sort of pace and accuracy that we've only seen recently in fits and starts. If anyone's going to get through it's going to be Flintoff. Thanks heavens we've moved away from the Illingworth/Dexter era. Otherwise Harmison would have been in the nets being forced to bowled left handed wearing a dinner jacket. Talking of clothes, management should be happy to let him wear his Newcastle United shirt whenever he wants, (receptions, official functions...) fill his room with crates of Brown Ale and turn the air conditioning up full to recreate the freezing conditions found on the Tyne (dry ice makes a nice substitute for fog)

KP - Prediction time - he's going to make a huge score in this series - 200 plus. By the end of the series, He'll have wound up thousands of people and taken a heap of abuse, but no one will dare leave their seat when he walks out to bat.

Plunkett - In some England squads, there's someone who gets referred to in polite company as the 'goat photographer'. To put it bluntly, the title reflects the feeling that he must have pictures of one of the selectors in a compromising position with a cloven footed animal to have achieved selection. Fully fit, he might have been worth gambling on, but as he's one of an ever growing list of players who will have to prove their fitness before getting on the plane, it seems an odd choice.

Monty - Should be first choice spinner, but I suspect that he'll only play when two spinners are required (Sydney & Adelaide) Of course, if Giles is unfit it's a whole different story, to the extent that England may well restructure their team to make sure they get the most from him.

Giles - First response is to think of him as the faithful family retainer who's only in the squad because he's best mates with the (non playing) skipper. But then you remember the golden moments from last summer, the fact that he's no mug with the bat and can catch anything that goes through the gully region and you start to realise that he's not a bad choice after all. Must be his last tour though.

Read - Hasn't done anything wrong since his recall, which is enough to have him pencilled in for the first test, regardless of what happens in the warm up games.

Jones - His selection suggests that Fletcher and Co still have an open mind when it comes to choosing an 'England No. 1'. Otherwise, they'd have taken the opportunity to go for a Prior or a Foster.

Freddie - Leaner, fitter, and feared. One thing he won't do is win the toss at Brisbane and ask the Australians to bat first. He won't take a backward step when the Australians come out swinging, and there'll be hell to pay for anyone in the team who does.

Trescothick - You try to deny it, but in all honesty he's a 'accident waiting to happen'. (Source - Mike Selvey) If your mind is in a fragile state, the very last place you want to be going is on a cricket tour to Australia. If he does come through, and is in contention for the first test, there might be an arguement for batting him at six. Let's pray he does get sorted, because he's the only batsman in the squad who's scored a test match run in Australia, and only one of four in the whole squad.

Collingwood - He'll feel right at home in Melbourne where there's an Aussie Rules team named after him - though he'll think differently when he finds out their nicknames is the 'Magpies'. In terms of temperament, and making the best use of his ability, he's the nearest we've got to an Aussie in the squad, aprt from the real one of course!

Bell - Seemed out of his depth last summer, although gutted out a couple of 50's at Old Trafford. This time, could be a good outside bet to be the top England run getter. Also a handy man 'under the helmet' at short leg.

Cook - In all probability, he's likely to end up opening with Strauss. Quick quiz - When was the last time England had an 'All Public School' opening pair? I've mentioned here before that he's more obsessive about simply scoring lots of runs than anyone since Sir Geoffrey was in his pomp. No bad thing!

Hoggard - Yet another fitness worry. In a way though, this could be a blessing in disguise. Australian wickets really won't suit him, and it's a long way to go to hope for the odd overcast day to come along. if he doesn't play, he's very likely to pack his rucksack and tour round with the Barmy Army...

Anderson - With Hoggard, Anderson and Plunkett all in the squad, Stuart Broad looks the best bet in the 'first to be called up from the reserve squad' stakes.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Yer Blues

Here's something to pass the time whilst you're waiting for the touring party to be announced tomorrow. (Live on Sky at 3pm)

Click here.

The 'younger brother' link on the left hand side of the page is good fun too.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Questions & Answers

Strauss or Flintoff? Having heard the Sky commentators split themselves down the middle on this, I have to say that I'm easy with whatever choice the selectors make. The only odd thing is that normally a tour captain would have a say on the squad he leads. With no official announcement, you have to think that that's not going to be the case this time. However...

A Sweet 16? Following on from the comment above, you do have to say that there's a fair amount of unanimity on at least 13 of the 16 places up for grabs. The one interesting dissenting voice is Mike Atherton, who comes up with the (valid in my view) arguement that you really shoudn't be picking players who've been out of the game for six months plus. Atherton got bitten by this on the '94 tour which turned into a farce before the first test, so you can sympathise with his point of view.

What's with the Perth arrangement? 5 players will fly out with the main squad and stay in Perth up to the end of the 3rd Test as a 'back-up' squad - acclimitising themselves to the conditions and on standby to join the main squad at a moments notice. It's an inspired idea that's got Duncan Fletcher's fingerprints all over it. Effectively we get a squad of 21, with none of the previous problems involving a player facing a 24 hour journey followed by being thrown in at the deep end in 100 degree heat compared with the freezing conditions he's left at home.

Still reckon we can retain the Ashes? We only need to draw the series. This means that the squad has to be ensure we can switch between an eleven with seven batsmen and only four front line batsmen, and the more orthodox 'six-plus-five'. Of course, both scenarios will be fat more comfortable if 'A Flintoff' is one of the eleven listed names.

What did you mean by 'Jimmy Conway as Freddie Flintoff' in your previous post?
Think about it. The first time De Niro appears in Goodfellas, he's the life and soul of the party - dispensing wisecracks and tips in equal measure ('He even tipped the guy who kept the ice cold') And he carries on in the vein through most of the film. During the 'Shoe Shine' scene, Jimmy Conway is the guy trying to pour oil on troubled waters, insisting everyone has a drink after Tommy's first outburst. So it's a real eye-opener when he starts giving the prone figure of Billy Batts a real shoeing after the stabbing.

Even after that he's seems outwardly calm - you can even forgive his reaction to the fur coat and new car that other gang members flaunt after the Idlewild Heist, until the cracks really start showing after Tommy is whacked on the day he's supposed to be 'made'.

Flintoff has the same outward air of bonhomie and contentment personified, but then remember that some of his bowling spells last summer were absolutely brutal - you still wince (and secretly grin...) when you see what he did to Brett Lee at Edgbaston, Ponting in the same test, and Hayden at The Oval.

The narrator in 'Goodfellas' says that everyone was scared of Jimmy Conway. The Australians are terrified of Freddie. Harmison they can cope with (although it's obviously not much fun) because they know the spells will be short, and a fair percentage of deliveries will be off target, but with Flintoff, his spells seem to last forever, and ball after ball will dart back in from outside off stump aiming at the ribcage - all at 90+mph.

And then there's that pesky reverse swing...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Seven Ball Over

Seven random thoughts on a Wednesday evening: -
  • Am I the only person who's starting thinking that this is the end of the Trescothick era and it's going to be Strauss & Cook walking out to open the England innings at the Gabba in November?
  • I've been pretty effusive in my praise of Mike Atherton and what he's brought to the Sky commentary team elsewhere in this blog, but his performance during the Shoaib 'ball tampering' non-story in Tuesday's ODI was pathetic. His 'we're not making a judgement, just putting the pictures out there so you can make your own minds up' comment was truly pathetic. Gower and Hussain should hang their heads in shame too.
  • Brad Hogg - the Fredo Corleone of Australian cricket.
  • ...and while we're at it, the likeness and similarity of mannerisms between Inzy and 'Big Paulie' Cicero from the Scorsese classic 'Goodfellas' is so alarming that it deserves it's own post. (Don't touch that dial!) Andrew Flintoff as 'Jimmy Conway' anyone?
  • My Australian sources tell me that the ACB are seriously thinking about limiting 5th day entry for the MCG Test to Australian passport holders only.
  • Talking of Australia - TRSM has now gone global (Link here) Thanks Ben!
  • Rash prediction time - we'll have a new Prime Minister by the time of the Brisbane Test.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What if...

What if all the English Test Match grounds were TV comedy programmes...

Lords - Keeping Up Appearances. Far too posh and self obsessed. Popular with a certain influential segment of society, and on its day can have a certain amount of atmosphere and class, but in truth it's just put up with because of its name and reputation.

Trent Bridge - The Fast Show. Deservedly massively popular. Friendly and welcoming, very unpretentious. Has something for everyone. Well established and almost traditionally mainstream, but occasionally, even now, can throw up a pleasant surprise.

Headingley - 'Til Death Us Do Part. Very in your face, ocasionally inspiring but more often than not just seems gratuitously offensive and very much dated these days.

Old Trafford - Last of the Summer Wine. Inexplicably popular among a particular regional demographic. Populated by men in long raincoats and silly hats moaning about everything, but primarily the weather. Has an impressive history, but now is badly in need of a complete overhaul or putting out to pasture.

The Oval - Only Fools and Horses. Typically South London. An old favourite that never lets you down and occasionally produces some wonderful moments that immediately become the stuff legends are made of. Outwardly mouthy and challenging, but underneath is soft and cuddly.

Edgbaston - The Young Ones. Noisy, anarchic and childish. Doesn't take itself at all seriously, in fact seems to revel in the raucous reputation. Not to all tastes but great fun, and about as far from 'Keeping up Appearances' as it's possible to get.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Royal Scam

I've previously posted here about about the irritating habit that some people have of just watching the pre lunch session at a test and disappearing out to lunch for three or four hours, leaving an empty seat that could easily be filled by someone who actually wants to watch the game.

Since posting that, an acquaintance of mine (a self-confessed 'corporate whore' of the highest order) has filled me in on a shady scam that some of the absentees get up to.

A company will book a box for a Test Match for a certain number of people, limited by the size of the box. They pay a price per head for the privilege, which can about anything from £200 upwards.

If you look at the boxes at most Test Match grounds they'll have a couple of rows of seats in front of the dining area where the occupants will sit if they can be bothered to tear their eyes away from the scantily clad piece of eye-candy that a lot of companies feel they should provide for their male guests to slobber over during the day. These seats are normally filled in the morning before the gin and tonic has kicked in, but gradually get deserted around lunchtime and any faux interest in the cricket wanes.

Just after the lunch break starts, the guests will start mingling around the dining table inside the box. At the same time, other 'guests' (or for the sake of accuracy let's call them 'parasitical freeloaders') will leave their ordinary seats in the ground and make their way to the hospitality area. Some of the guests in the box will take their food to the seats outside the box, leaving room around the table inside for the freeloaders to slip into the box and sit down.

The freeloaders will have blagged their way past the stewards at the entrance to the hospitality area, "Dammit, forgotten my ticket old boy - terribly sorry" or someone will come down with another ticket and vouch for them. If you think about the psycology at work here, it's quite easy for a steward to make life difficult for a group of lads in T-shirts trying to use the 'lost ticket' excuse at the main turnstiles, but probably a totally different matter when confronted by someone in a suit talking about 'important clients' in the hectoring tone that this type seem to be born with.

By the time people have finished playing musical chairs, there could be anything up to 25 people enjoying themselves, whilst the company has only paid for 15.

Once inside the box, the only potential spoke in the wheel is the catering corps - and if you're earning a few bob during your holidays, or you're on minimum wage, are you really going to rock the boat by counting heads? if anyone does start querying the numbers, they'll normally be offered a drink, or some folding stuff will drop into someones top pocket.

So not only do a swathe of people leave their seats unoccupied for most of the day - they're also enjoying a full corporate hospitality package for the price of an ordinary seat.

So why should this worry us? After all, people have been 'blagging' their way into sporting events for years and generally the reporting tone is one of admiration rather than censure.

Well, the argument in favour of corporate boxes is that it provides a huge source of revenue for the authorities - money that would otherwise go on other events such as Wimbledon, Royal Ascot etc. Fair enough to an extent, but my contention would therefore be that if companies are prepared to pay silly sums for this sort of thing, you should make the sums as silly as you possibly can and making every effort to maximise profit as much as you possibly can.

Basic supply and demand economics suggests that you should charge as much as an idiot with an entertainment budget is prepared to pay. But if a percentage of people are getting the package for a cut-down price, the authorities are losing out - drink and food and the best views in the groundare being provided for people who haven't paid for them, which isn't the idea at all.

Plus, going back to my original point, a seat lies empty for over three quarters of the day whilst anyone outside is staring at the 'Sold Out' signs.