Friday, September 28, 2007

The Home Front (Part 1)

(First of a two part overview of the current county scene from a financial perspective. In part one we look at the growing divide between county 'haves' and 'have nots' - Part Two to follow shortly)

Of the eighteen first class counties, eight are current England international hosts. Of those eight, six will be in the County Championship First Division next season - and the other two are probably the ante post favourites for promotion next season - Warwickshire, who were relegated at the end of this season and Middlesex who finished a close third in Division 2.

It looks as though there may be a pattern developing here, and we might soon come to a situation whereby some counties in Division 2 cease to be financially viable. Effectively the number of counties could be reduced by a Darwinian 'survival of the fittest' process - especially if the ECB ever change their county funding policy . Giles Clarke certainly seems like the hard nosed businessman who wouldn't bat an eyelid if the odd lame duck went under - or maybe semi-professional.

Current financial data is difficult to get hold of, but I've previously posted here about how up to 50% of a non-international host county income will come in the form of the 'hand out' from the ECB. For example, all counties got around £1.5m in 2006 - Worcestershire's total income from all sources in that year - sponsorship, membership, gate receipts etc, was just over £3m.

I think we can safely assume that the situation at New Road didn't get much better in 2007, when you bear in mind the financial hit they took through most of their home '20/20' games being rained off. Their two solutions so far appear to be asking the ECB (successfully in this instance), for an additional hand-out, and an Elton John concert planned for next year - desparation indeed!

It's very much a given that being an international host gives a county a big financial advantage. Beyond the obvious benefits of the clicking of turnstiles, membership at test county grounds will be higher due to the accessibility of test match tickets. Additionally it's easier to attract companies to your corporate boxes, and you can charge a higher premium for on-ground advertising. Your 'cut' from concession stands will also be higher - and local businesses (hotels, restaurants etc) will be happier to get involved in county activities knowing that they'll have a captive test match audience at least once a year.

Increased revenue means you can attract better quality overseas players - thus increasing interest in the county, bolstering your chances of staying in, or getting to, the top flight - and giving you an advantage in the cups. Then you get to a 'success breeds success' scenario - evidenced by Stuart Broad's move from Leicestershire to Notts.

More revenue also means a better coaching structure, and a better chance of indentifying future stars - before they get frustrated and either drop out of the game and move off to another county.

It's instructive at this point to look at the three counties in Division One next season who are bucking the trend.

1. Somerset. Very well organised county structure and have the advantage of being the 'only game in town' sportswise in the region. If any county could say that they had a 'fanatically loyal football style supporter base' it's Cidershire. Also had the advantage of a whole year of Trescothick this summer - plus a highly committed overseas pro in Justin Langer and an evergreen (evergrey?) Andy Caddick.

2. Kent. Two words - 'Robert Key'. Effectively voted 'captain of the year' by his fellow professionals, Key lead from the front all summer. Scored almost half as many first class runs again as any other Kent batsman and generally cajoled, inspired and sweated blood to keep them in the first division. The 20/20 trophy was a nice surprise - and a 'nice little earner' to boot, though having to repair the Edgbaston dressing room after Key trashed it on finals day must have eaten into the profits somewhat!

To stay up in 2008 however, they'll need a slightly better overseas pro than Van Jaarsveld - who's certainly useful - but not quite in the 'class' category. Now might be a good time to dig out Dwayne Bravo's phone number again. Also, Canterbury is looking on the shabby side - the Wooley and Ames Stands look like they were built before the said players started strutting their stuff under the Elm tree, and the whole place could do with a bit of a facelift. It'll be interesting to see how they handle and fund redevelopment.

3. Sussex - Simple. A few years ago they got a 12 million pound inheritance from a rich member. That's almost four times the annual income of some counties, and meant that they could invest for the future and pay for a virtual phalanx of high class overseas recruits to bolster their one day efforts. At one stage they had Rana Naved, Saqlain, Mushtaq Ahmed and Murray Goodwin in the same line up - shades of Kanhai, Kallicharran, Gibbs & Murray!

No wonder Chris Adams did his abrupt about turn!

Obviously being a test host doesn't automatically guarantee continued success - Nottinghamshire have only just come back to the first division, and even Surrey had to slum it down with the riff-raff for a short time up to last year, but it could well become an increasing demarcation line as counties start having to look at their balance sheets more closely when considering strategy to reach, and maintain their position in, the first division. Which was probably the unstated objective all along.

Many activists for change, such as Bob Willis, Mike Atherton and the Cricket Reform Group, have long lobbied for a County Championship based on a reduced number of counties at the test grounds on a regional basis. The CRG was keen on an immediate change to the first class structure - maybe advance by the slow lane will prove to be just as effective.

(In Part Two we'll look at the prosepcts for the counties in the 'have not' category.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Question Time

A somewhat spiky interview with Monty Panesar in yesterday's Grauniad.

Obviously you can't expect all professional cricketers to be bubbly extroverts, always ready with a hapy quip and anecdote for the guy with the microphone - but then Monty has got an autobiography, and a very naff looking DVD to flog - so you'd have thought he might have made a bit more of an effort.

Then again, who cares? If he'd rather channel his charm and personality into his bowling, then he can come across in an interview like Harpo Marx for all it means to us.

The unwritten subtext to this is that the interviewer, Donald McRae, was the one who dropped Michael Vaughan in it over the skipper's denial that he used the expression 'pedalo' in an earlier interview.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Don't Like Mondays

What sort of lunatic organisation schedules a grand final for a Monday lunchtime?

Maybe there are sinister right-wing ICC forces at work that fancy going up against Gordon Brown's speech from Bournmouth!

The only other final I can ever remember being played on a Monday was the Gillette Cup Final in 1974. Scorecard here. Read it and weep Lancashire fans! 118 all out off 60 overs?! These days India would fancy their chances getting over 500 in that time.

Look at some of the bowling figures. Norman Graham was a pretty useful quick bowler, who could bring the ball down from Garneresque heights, but 12-6-14-2 for heaven's sake! That makes Derek Underwood's performance look positively profligate!

What were Lancashire doing - playing for a draw?

I had tickets for the final, and spent the Saturday up in St Johns Wood staring forlornly out at a very wet Lords. On the Monday my parents agreed to me playing hookey from school to go and watch SuperKent finally give the northern upstarts a hiding - and get some revenge for 1971 (the Asif/Bond final) and 1972 (Lost the semi at Old Trafford)

On the way over to my grandparents - who were taking me that day, it started hammering down again so Dad made the unilateral decision that it was going to be rained off a third time and took me to school instead... When I got home at 3.30 and put the TV on Lancashire were 80-5!!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Crash, Bang, Wallop

Random thoughts on a week of international 20/20.

- What on earth did Flintoff say to Yuvraj before Broad's fatal over. Obviously there's a future for Freddie on the 'motivational speaking' circuit once he's finished playing.

- If I'd have been Broad I'd have thrown the sixth one waaay down the legside - hit that for six then! Trouble is, Yuvraj probably would have done.

- Some of the six hitting reminds me of the Crash Davis quote in Bull Durham - 'Most things that fly that far normally have a stewardess on them'

- Talking of stewardesses, the new Australia kits look like they've been designed by the same person who came up with the Easyjet uniform.

- Are the most EXPENSIVE tickets for the final really only eleven quid? If that's true, it would actually be cheaper to attend the 20/20 final than the Rugby World Cup Final in Paris, even including travel costs!

- Talking of tickets, the SA sales policy has certainly created a fantastic atmosphere - to the extent that the loud music seems a bit un-necessary. So loud that you can hardly hear them booing KP.

- The four people dressed in combats and vests, apparently high on a cocktail of kick-ass drugs, dancing maniacally on the roof of the dugout at every opportunity. What's that all about?

- Like to see them try that in front of the Peter May Enclosure.

- Fred is now going to miss the Sri Lanka one day series - but Peter Moores is still clinging to the idea of getting him back for the test series. So the gameplan now seems to be, damage the ankle, let him have a couple of months to recover, then damage it again, then recover - lather, rinse repeat.

- It was pretty clear in last five overs of the South Africa run chase that a 'six hitter' was required, yet Mascarenhas went in after after Jeremy Snape - who spent eleven balls scoring seven. Imagine what Mascara could have done with those eleven balls? Then, against India, England managed to contrive a situation where he went in after Shah and Luke Wright, and didn't face a single ball.

- File this under 'extremely worrying'... Charles Colville is talking a lot of sense.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Achilles Last Stand

There's been quite a lot of publicity this weekend over an interview Ricky Ponting gave to the Observer in which he suggested that England were wrong to be picking Andrew Flintoff and that he would benefit greatly from an extended period of rest.

There's something of a history of Australian skippers trying to tell the England selectors how to do their jobs. Just after the war, Don Bradman kept saying that DVP Wright was the best leg spinner he'd ever faced - so England kept picking him and Bradman kept carting him all over the shop. Then once the selectors had wised up to this typical dastardly colonial trick, Richie Benaud applied some reverse psycology when he kept recommending various players to the England selectors through his newspaper column in the News of the World - banking, correctly, on the fact that they would avoid his suggestions like the plague.

With Ponting, however, I don't think there's anything Machiavellian going on - I reckon it's simply a case of genuine respect from one professional for another. After all, a well rested, fully fit Flintoff roaring in to bowl in the summer of 2009 is about the only thing that might be giving Ricky and his Merry men the occasional sleepless half-hour at the moment.

Peter Moores has said that England need to 'manage' the ankle. What the hell does that mean? Either Flintoff is fit enough to bowl, or he isn't. If continuing to bowl on it is going to cause irreperable harm - then he should stop. Watch Flintoff's movements at the moment - you can tell that he's treading carefully - so why is he still taking the risk? Is it really fair to play Russian Roulette with someone's livliehood?

England don't NEED him this winter. There are enough all-rounder options to give the selectors some flexibilty when picking the sides for Sri Lanka & New Zealand. For example, call it a long shot, but I don't think Stuart Broad would let anyone down if you stuck him in at six.

In fact the next series when Fred's presence could be described as 'crucial' isn't until next summer when South Africa pitch up and you'd really like to see him wiping the sanctimonious grin off of Graeme Smith's face.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mouth Almighty

Question... try to think of the most unlikely person, alive or deceased, to ever come out with a quote about cricket.

Stalin? Possibly - but remember that 'cricket' is often used as a convenient shorthand for 'Anglo Saxon eccentricity' along the lines of 'games last five days without a result' or 'half way through everyone stops for tea' - so there's a good chance that Uncle Joe may well be on record someone with a quote about the great game.

A Kalahari nomad who might not have heard of Shane Warne? I doubt there is one.

How about Linda Lovelace? That'll do: -
"Cricket is like sex films, they relieve frustration and tension."

Ich Bin Ein Zimbabwean

If a population ever deserved something like this, it had to be Zimbabwe.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rock around the Clock

A huge day of sport yesterday - all three internation teams on show - plus other assorted televisual feasts to help you wear a groove in the sofa.

So, how did it go?


Up early to watch Hawthorn beat the Adelaide Crows in the AFL elimination finals (effectively the quarter finals) The Hawks first 'post season' since 2001. They trailed by as many as 25 at one stage, and at the end of the third quarter seemed on their knees, but came back to win by three. So the Richie Vandenberg farewell tour isn't quite over yet.


Sorted out all my household chores whilst listening to a re-broadcast of the Red Sox/Orioles game from earlier in the morning. The Sox won 4-0 behind another strong start by Jon Lester to maintain their seven game lead over the MFYs in the AL East.


Tune into the cricket - which remains on through one medium or another through until 5pm.
Anderson continuing where he left off in the previous games of this series, giving Ganguly a real roughing up. Tendulkar gets a shocker, and stands there as though he's about to use the 'these people have paid to watch me, not you' line - first attributed to WG Grace.

Having so many different sports on in such close proximity gives you the chance to compare and contrast the players reaction to official decisions. For example - compare and contrast: -

Exhibit A - The aforementioned shocker from Aleem Dar. Tendulkar looks nomplussed, but eventually toddles off. Even for that five second pause at the crease, hoever, he's likely to be fined half his match fee.

Exhibit B - The continual whining to the referee in professional football over every decision, and surrounding him every time a big decision goes against their team. Why bother? You can count the number of times a ref has changed a decision on the toes of Fred Titmus's right foot.

Exhibit C - Critical Heineken Cup match last winter. Llanelli are three points down in the last minute. They have a penalty twenty yards from the posts which will tie the game if they kick it. Fly half asks the ref (using the words 'How long left Sir?') how long to go, and the reply suggests that there's time to kick to the corner for the line-out and drive. Player therefore kicks, and the ref blows up for time! Result - some mild protests, and a few cross words in the press, but that's all. Imagine the toys that would have flown out of the pram had it happened in the Premier League? You'd have been talking legal action...


Back in the cricket, Fred is having more problems with his ankle (Should we be calling him Achilles by now?) and looks like he's going to miss the 20/20 championship, but on the plus side Mascara bowls himself onto the plane with a superb spell.


This exchange on Sky: -

Botham (after a disagreement with Hussain) - "We haven't got any more time to discuss this now Nas. We can debate it later, but you're not going to change my mind."

Hussain - "Not going to be much of a debate then is it."


Throughout the afternoon England turn in a clinical display. A few minor blips (what was Luke Wright doing?!) but otherwise, very encouraging - much like the series as a whole.


England clinch a well-deserved series win - ten minutes before you'd have had the unique scenario of all three teams playing simultaneously!


Rugby & Football kick off. Time for some nifty remote control work.

England score early in the football, which effectively ruins it as a contest. They look surprisingly competent (absence of Lampard helped there) and have it all safely tied up by early in the second half.

Usual struggle in the rugby, though to be fair, the USA looked defensively very competent. England score enough points to make the game safe - but rather alarmingly weren't able to pad their lead in the last twenty minutes.


Two other alternatives come into play: -

1) Full repeat showing of Collingwood/Sydney Swans

2) Live coverage of Oklahoma v Miami in NCAA Football.


Cricket highlights on Channel 5.


Oklahoma hammer Miami, and then Oregon v Michigan starts.

... and so on!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pointing the Finger

I blame Dmitri Mascarenhas.

After all, when you're setting a target against such a strong batting line up like India, you should really be looking to score off every ball , so blocking that first delivery of Yuvraj's last over really wasn't good enough.

It might even cost him his place in the squad for South Africa...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fortune Teller

There was a certain, depressing inevitability about this news.

Allan Donald has suggested that he and Flintoff get together and try and re-work Freddie's bowling action to put less stress on his left ankle. At the moment his foot points towards midwicket in his delivery stride, putting immense stress on the ankle itself and whatever the name of the bone is that runs up the outside of your calf. At the very least it should aim for long leg.

Initial reports were that Flintoff was receptive, but then the news was that his thinking is now along the lines of 'too late to change now' - and 'changing that will upset the entire process'.

Well, someone (Vaughan perhaps) needs to sit Fred down and 'tell him his fortune' - along the lines of - "Now the ankle has been damaged, it's never going to be as strong as it was before - therefore this problem is going to continually re-occur unless you do something about it."

Flintoff reportedly wants to be seen as a batting all-rounder. England need him as a bowling all-rounder, but unless he bites the bullet and takes some advice he may not play for England again.

Trouble is, it may already be too late.