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Cricket News & Views

Pakistan alienation almost complete

THE alienation of Pakistan from world cricket continues -- partly with blame and partly without -- as the relationship with erstwhile friends, England, on and off the field dissolves into hostility. This week's ECB press release said it all.

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Terrorist activity left Pakistan unavoidably without a home base, attracting sympathy and help, but now there is corruption suspicion against three of their players -- with some apparent 'forecast' evidence published in The News of the World newspaper. Then comes the comments by Ijaz Butt, the Pakistan Board chairman, in a blatantly political attempt to tarnish England, and his words have left a sour taste.

The England players already detested playing against Pakistan in this one-day series, and hearing that Butt claimed there were rumours that England threw the match at the Brit Oval might have had them walking out. Andrew Strauss reacted with "surprise, dismay and outrage" at Butt's suggestion.

It was clear from a radio interview, repeated on the BBC, that Butt felt that the allegations against three Pakistan players were no more than insinuation and that he reckoned these individuals should not be suspended without being found guilty. Then he made a vague claim that there was talk among bookmakers that England threw the Oval match. He added that he could not name any bookmaker in the same way that no bookmakers could be identified in the English newspaper allegations. That was his thinking -- unfairness and conspiracy against Pakistan. 

On Monday the ECB circulated the following press release. Nothing like this has been issued probably since the Kerry Packer break-away circuit storm almost 40 years ago. While sympathising, one must pray that the ECB do not invest their hard-earned funds in libel action against an admittedly "wholly irresponsible" Butt. This would be a total waste of time and money. The law action involving Packer certainly was.

ECB press release (Sept 20, 2010):

"For Immediate Use

"ECB and England team to continue NatWest Series against Pakistan

"The ECB and the England team today announced that they were committed to continuing with the current NatWest Series against Pakistan. This decision was unanimously taken by the ECB Board following a meeting between the ECB chairman Giles Clarke, CEO David Collier, ECB managing director of England cricket, Hugh Morris, and the England captain and coach, Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flower, and a subsequent meeting with all of the England team.

"The ECB and the England players completely reject the remarks made by the PCB chairman Ijaz Butt yesterday about the England team's conduct in the third NatWest ODI at The Brit Insurance Oval. Mr Buttís comments were wholly irresponsible and completely without foundation.

"The ECB expresses its gratitude for the outstanding conduct of the England team this summer and will take all legal and disciplinary action which may result from Mr Buttís comments.

"The Board and the team, however, are of a view that it remains in the best interests of world cricket, the players and in particular of cricket supporters that the tour should continue and it would set a dangerous precedent to call off a tour based on the misguided and inaccurate remarks made by one individual.

"ECB will continue to offer ICC its full support in taking the strongest possible action against all areas of corruption and is pledged to offering the ACSU its full support at all times.

"Given the current sensitivities surrounding this issue, ECB believes it is imperative that any serious allegations made against another team or player should be presented through the proper channels to the ACSU. Both ECB and Team England view the comments made by Mr Butt as defamatory and not based in fact.

"Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport and the Olympics, said: "I welcome the decision by England to play the last two games of this tour. It is a pragmatic decision that is in the best interests of world cricket."

"Media Statement issued on behalf of the England Cricket Team

"The England Cricket team has this morning issued a statement in conjunction with the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA), following allegations made yesterday by the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

"The team deplores and rejects unreservedly the suggestion that any England cricketer was involved in manipulating the outcome, or any individual element, of the third NatWest Series ODI at the Brit Insurance Oval between England and Pakistan last week. The players fully understand their responsibilities as representatives of their country, and would not countenance giving less than 100 per cent in any match they play.

"Andrew Strauss, England captain, speaking on behalf of the team, said:

"We would like to express our surprise, dismay and outrage at the comments made by Mr Butt yesterday. We are deeply concerned and disappointed that our integrity as cricketers has been brought into question. We refute these allegations completely and will be working closely with the ECB to explore all legal options open to us.

"Under the circumstances, we have strong misgivings about continuing to play the last two games of the current series and urge the Pakistani team and management to distance themselves from Mr Butt's allegations. We do, however, recognise our responsibilities to the game of cricket, and in particular to the cricket-loving public in this country, and will therefore endeavour to fulfil these fixtures to the best of our ability."

"Angus Porter, chief executive of the PCA, added: "The players appreciate the difficult position the ECB finds itself in, and is fully supportive of the actions taken by the Board, along with the ICC, to ensure all allegations of wrong-doing are properly investigated and acted upon. We will continue to cooperate closely with the ECB, with the aim of ensuring that the work to root out corruption is not derailed by mischievous attempts to detract attention from the real issues."

This is an amazing document from an organisation that prefers to understate and rarely deals in feelings. After the distasteful events that had Kevin Pietersen (who he?) getting Peter Moores sacked as coach early in the year, it has been a rough 2010 off the field for the ECB. Just as well the boys have won plenty of cricket games.

Posted by Charlie Randall
21/09/2010 11:02:39

ECB predict cricket's apocalypse

ENGLAND'S cricket authorities have told the Government they believe that reserving the Ashes series for terrestrial television would cause a "devastating collapse in the entire fabric of cricket in England and Wales from the playground to the Test match arena". Anyone might wonder after reading those words how cricket survived before Sky Television took the monopoly in 2006.

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And there is more rubble foreseen. The ECB calculate that a "probable" £137.4 million will be wiped off their television revenues for the 2014-2017 period, a drop of 48 per cent. This, they say, would threaten the existence of "many" first class counties and cut investment in the grass-roots sector by half. Another gloomy point is that Test cricket would be ill-equipped to halt the march of Twenty20 cricket and that players could abandon the long form in droves. All the ECB need to do is to announce they would have to cut biscuits from their coffee break budget at Lord's and the horror will be complete.

Interestingly within days of ECB's projection Surrey announced record pre-tax profits of £752,000, a jump by almost a third after strong performances in the previous two years. The county said their turnover increased by £1.5 million to £25.5 million largely due to the twin successes of hosting at the Brit Oval another Ashes-winning Test match and the ICC World Twenty20. They are one of the 'haves' along with Glamorgan, newcomers to the table. Kent, one of the 'have not' counties, announced losses of more than £802,000, despite big increases in match receipts. Essex reported a loss this week of £216,000, despite increased membership and higher Twenty20 attendances.

Television has great significance as terrestrial broadcasters will pay nothing like the amounts that Sky have invested, especially as the BBC have blown their budget on Formula One, locking up well over £200 million for the rights plus a significant wedge of coverage on-cost. In fairness to the ECB, the BBC's absurd policy on sport has taken a bidder out of the market and hit the nation's No 1 summer game. As ECB chairman Giles Clarke has said, who in this country 'plays' Formula One? Cricket is the UK's second-biggest team participant game, after football.

If Sky were to reduce their investment in cricket, it is likely that jobs will be lost at the ECB and elsewhere, including coaching outreach. But while there is so little on terrestrial television, cricket will remain almost a non-sport. Rugby union realised that their sport disappeared off the nation's consciousness after Sky were given exclusive Twickenham rights and all club rugby. The same error of judgment has not been made again.

There is an irritating ploy in the ECB submission against the 'crown jewels' recommendation in the Davies Report. The ECB list all the achievements during the Sky era, including the Ashes success of 2009, strong women's performances, wider grass-roots participation and so on, and it is implied that all this will end if Sky lose their broadcasting monopoly.

So on March 19 2010 the ECB submitted their response to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's consultation document on the review of free-to-air listed events. This followed the report of the Davies advisory panel that the Ashes should be listed for free-to-air television and all other cricket removed from the B list that covers terrestrial highlights.

The ECB said that in recent weeks they had received contact from bodies across the sport, including first class counties, county boards, the Professional Cricketers Association, Minor Counties Cricket Association, Premier League clubs, representatives of women's and disabilities cricket, the Lord's Taverners, Chance to Shine, the governing body of the world game the International Cricket Council as well as other national cricket boards expressing their great concern at the impact listing might have.

The ECB summarised key parts of their submission so that everyone in the game had an "accurate understanding of the findings of the economic impact assessment". The ECB commissioned independent advisors Oliver & Ohlbaum, a sports marketing consultancy, National Economic Research Associates and the accountants Deloitte, who reviewed the impact there would be on cricket's grassroots infrastructure.

What was said to the Government

The ECB said: "The independent economic impact assessment, based on a conservative assessment, demonstrates a probable loss of £137.4 million for the 2014-2017 domestic broadcast contract. This represents a drop of 48 per cent in expected revenues from our domestic broadcast rights for the same period. These figures already take into account any expected revenue 'upside' through listing the home Ashes Test match series, most notably any additional sponsorship income, calculated to be up to £4.8 million.

"The evidence demonstrates starkly that placing the home Ashes Test match series on list A would bring about a devastating collapse in the entire fabric of cricket in England and Wales from the playground to the Test-match arena. The evidence submitted to Department for Culture, Media and Sport sets out how an impact of this magnitude would dramatically reduce investment in cricket's infrastructure leading to less successful England teams (men's, women's and disability), threaten the future of many first class counties and reduce by more than half the ECB's investment into the grassroots of the game. It would also impact on the regeneration we have seen in recent years in links between schools and clubs including those that our 1,330 focus clubs have made with 5,355 schools."

The ECB summary continued: "Cricket in England and Wales has undergone a rapid transformation during the period since the ECB has been able to obtain a true "market rate" for its broadcasting rights resulting in the following positive outcomes:

a) unprecedented progress at the recreational level of the game, with our 39 county cricket boards providing a focal point through which the amateur game can flourish in England and Wales. Externally audited figures show that the ECB spends on enthusing participation and excellence (the category which reflects investment in the women's, disabilities, age-group and recreational game) in 2009 was £19.4 million; 22 per cent of total expenditure across the recreational and professional game.

b) greater financial security for our first class counties through increased central payments, enabling them to provide both a centre of excellence for cricket in their individual region and act as a sporting, social and community hub for cricket. There has also been a transformation in facilities at all of the first class county grounds, with our major Test grounds now investing in facilities that match the very best in other sports.

c) investment into our England (men's, women's and disabilities) teams, including central contracts, sports science and coaching support and the National Cricket Centre, with resultant success including all three teams winning their respective Ashes series last year.

"The ECB has also set out how listing would reverse the progress which the ECB has made in increasing participation as a direct consequence of the extra income generated through our domestic broadcast rights. The latest Active People figures from Sport England (published this month) recorded the highest-ever figure for the number of adults now playing cricket at least once a month, an increase of 12.5 per cent on the figure recorded in 2005. Cricket ranks as the second most popular team sport after football.

"Our focus clubs represent the best indicator to measure the direct impact of investment by the ECB. Recent figures collated by the ECB and verified by independent analysts show that since 2006 the following increases have been recorded by those focus clubs:

71% in participation

26% in club membership

40% in those involved in coaching roles

18% in those involved in volunteer roles

"A specific area where the ECB has made significant progress in the development of the grassroots game is in the women's and girls' game. In 2003, there were only 93 cricket clubs with women's and girls' sections, by 2009 that figure had risen to 505.

"The submission also sets out the advice we have received from sports right experts that listing could be the determining factor in an irreversible demise of Test match cricket and lead to less coverage of county, club and women's cricket as the game faces the challenge of Twenty20 saturation or even a Packer 'mark two'.

"The ECB has been advised that there is a risk that a decision to list the home Ashes Test match series might cause pay-TV broadcasters to walk away from all or some of our broadcast rights. The ecology of the international game of cricket, already under strain as a consequence of the rise to prominence of Twenty20 cricket, and specifically the ability of governing bodies to properly ensure the continued primacy of Test match cricket could also be harmed, probably irreparably.

"The ECB has informed the Government that it is not inconceivable that the funding shortfalls created by listing would precipitate a mass exodus of players from the international game and their contracts with national cricket boards, to play instead in tournaments designed specifically to appeal to pay-TV broadcasters.

"Sky Television, in particular, has also played a key role in promoting domestic (first class county), club and women's cricket through their commitment to showcase coverage of these forms of the game and to introduce popular magazine programmes promoting cricket at all levels. These are not commitments we would expect FTA broadcasters to be willing, nor able, to match should pay-TV broadcasters decide their investment is better made in other sports or cricket products.

"In its submission the ECB has reiterated its proposed innovative and positive solution to DCMS which is to strengthen the B list thus ensuring that highlights are broadcast FTA at family friendly times (between 7.15pm and 8.00pm), and that all Tests, not just the Ashes, are on this list.

"Our approach guarantees that moments of national resonance are broadcast and has the added benefit of ensuring that Test match cricket over four years is available to the widest possible audience whilst protecting the fragile infrastructure of the sport.

"The ECB is encouraged that in recent weeks both Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Gerry Sutcliffe, Minister for Sport, have said that they attach great importance to assessing the impact the proposals will have on the financial strength of the game. We are confident they will review this evidence carefully and will provide them with any further information they require."

CHARLIE SAYS: My gut feeling is that the Ashes series must go terrestrial. In other words the ECB must divide up one year in four between Sky and terrestrial. Yet the ECB claim revenue would decline by £130-plus million. Figures don't mean much unless the starting point and options are made clear.

Sky offer a special deal with cricket clubs, a very good idea, but due to bundling of other programmes into the subscription Sky Sport costs more than £400 a year for most viewers.

Posted by Charlie Randall
22/03/2010 12:44:36

Obstructive ECB came under fire

THE 'crown jewels' debate seemed to head against the terrestrial lobby in February, and pressure has grown to keep Test cricket off the A list of events reserved for terrestrial television in the public interest. But the pro-listing MCC have already questioned the ECB's gung-ho attitude to this issue, an insight into their strained relationship.

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At a presentation in July 2009 to the panel chaired by David Davies the MCC, always independent of ECB central funding, showed more than a hint of hostility to cricket's governing body in the submission by chief executive Keith Bradshaw and lawyer Peter Leaver.

The MCC reckoned greater flexibility was required by the ECB in reaching broadcasting deals and more research was needed before forming policy. And surprisingly the MCC, self-funding owners of Lord's, disclosed they were prevented by the ECB from holding their own money-making matches. For example, no profit was allowed from the twenty20 match between Middlesex and the 2009 IPL champions Rajasthan Royals, which attracted a 22,000 crowd.

The MCC said to the Davies panel: "The match was broadcast live to India and accidentally so here in the UK because the ECB had not read the paperwork. Such matches are for the good of the game, but generally the ECBís approach under the Staging Agreement is to make things as hard as possible. Games must be for charity and use ECB approved broadcasters."

Not enough research, the MCC implied, had been done by the ECB into the advantages or otherwise of terrestrial coverage and the effect on youth cricketers. "To understand which business model works best for cricket one would need to undertake a comparative study of Australia Ė with free-to-air cricket -- and coaching schemes and of England Ė with no free-to-air cricket -- and coaching."

Other points made by the MCC for the Davies Report included concerns that satellite television was too expensive and that cricket awareness was being damaged.

>Access to Test match cricket on free-to-air television greatly exercised MCC members, who were particularly worried that people Ė and young people in particular Ė were missing out because they could not, as opposed to would not, pay for premium sports channels.

>MCC concerns had been confirmed by an e-mail exchange with a cricket coaching school. Because of the way in which cricket is played in schools, youngsters coming to coaching schemes didnít know that two batsmen played were at the wicket at the same time because they had never seen a real game of cricket.

>The MCC had therefore set up a Working Party to look at the issue. As a result the MCC discussed with the ECB a number of possibilities that would have increased the 27 packages on offer to broadcasters to incorporate a degree of free-to-air coverage of Test match, one-day and T20 cricket. But the ECB still proceeded on the basis of the same 27 packages in selling the rights last time round.

>The MCC stressed it had no animus against Sky, which had done a great job in broadcasting cricket. Its concern was the ECBís broadcast rights policy and the question of access, and its view was that the ECB had not achieved the right balance between exposure and commercial exploitation.

>The MCC also had concerns about the impact of the way in which the ECB spends its commercial revenue. The MCC, which does not have a county cricket team, does not share in the broadcasting revenues. It therefore has to cover the costs of Lords Test matches from earned income. This means that ticket prices rise and fewer people see cricket either at Lord's itself or on TV.

>The Home Ashes series is always an event of national resonance. Series against South Africa, India and Pakistan are important, but do not have that iconic status.

>The MCC believed that terrestrial broadcasters would still be interested if the price was right, especially as there was a greater number of channels that overcame traditional scheduling difficulties.

>The MCC did not dispute the ECBís participation figures, but did not think that the growth was down to the ECB alone. The MCC and others did an awful lot to increase childrenís participation.

>Highlights appeared not to be an adequate substitute for live coverage. They worked for football, but not for cricket.

>Overall the MCCís key message was that greater flexibility was needed when the ECB put together broadcast rights packages so that some cricket remained available on free-to-air television.

CHANNEL 4 FELT 'LET DOWN' BY THE ECB

Channel 4 representatives declared themselves in favour of the 'crown jewels' and made the point that it was for the longer-term interest of sport and and was good for viewers too. They broadcast Test cricket for four years to the end of 2005, the renowned Ashes series, but ended their association because the experience had not been financially viable and they could not match Sky on price..

They said: "Securing the rights to Englandís home Test matches had been a piece of pure counter-intuitive C4 opportunism. It had never been a commercially driven decision, but it livened up summer schedules.

And in the case of series involving the West Indies, India and Pakistan, C4 would also mesh with a wider multi-cultural offering, which served its wider public service broadcasting remit and brought in new audiences. The juxtaposition of cricket and Big Brother had also been commercially very valuable to C4.

Channel 4 added: "C4 was glad to have done it, and tried to share the 2006-09 rights with Sky, but the ECB went with Sky. C4 did not bid for the current rights. There was no doubt however that cricket was now much less in the public consciousness. C4 felt a little let down by the ECB as it did a lot for cricket. They were not precious about that, but the ECB went for the money because of the need to support a financially ailing county cricket structure.

"Digital switchover might increase the number of qualifying free-to-air channels theoretically able to bid for listed events but they would be small and have small budgets. The greater value was probably in having the additional scope to schedule live events away from the main channels for example, on BBC3 and BBC4."

Posted by Charlie Randall
25/02/2010 14:34:59

Roger Mosey, the BBC cricket villain

A LETTER warning of dire consequences of ending the Sky monpoly of cricket has been circulated to Essex members as part of the general drive by the ECB to stop Test matches being added to the list of broadcasting 'crown jewels'.

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The debate on forcing certain sports events such as The Ashes to be shown on terrestrial television is due to be wound up in March this year. If Test cricket were to be listed, the income from Sky for exclusivity -- about £300 million for four years from 2010 -- will be reduced. Sports governing bodies such as the ECB have to balance income with increased exposure, and it is a tricky task.

The ECB, claiming poverty for several years, have conspicuously failed to achieve a television balance since the first Sky deal in 2006 and have spread a sob story over the media like a thick coating of strawberry jam. Ball sports such as tennis, golf and even rugby union and football know that the BBC offers greater value than can be measured in cash terms. But the real villains are the BBC and their disgraceful attitude to the national summer sport.

Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, said that the BBC again refused to bid for last year's renewal and claimed that there was no feasible way of dividing coverage between terrestrial and satellite. The BBC clearly felt their public service remit did not extend to cricket, having spent a rumoured £200 million on five Formula One seasons from 2009. The public purse is saddled with this deal until 2013.

But the BBC wheel deal is a horror story. That contract money, about £50 million more than paid by ITV for the previous five years, was agreed without any competition from another broadcaster. Without competition... the scenario that is supposed to drag prices lower not higher. And add to those millions the astronomical cost of covering Grand Prix races around the world, and one can see why Roger Mosey has much to answer for. It becomes clear why the BBC have never confirmed their price and why Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One rights holder, was "delighted" with the deal.

Mosey, an Oxford University graduate and Yorkshireman, is BBC director of sport -- soon to take charge of 2012 London Olympics coverage -- and has no real sporting background. No doubt a capable administrator and pleasant person, he has made a massive misjudgment with his spending.

Mosey does not seem to know that thousands and thousands of people play cricket in the fresh air during summer months, and millions are interested in this traditional game -- yes, even 'cool' people. So it is hard to fathom why Formula One, a very expensive international sport with only a handful of driving participants -- even allowing for two successive British champions -- is regarded as public service material often transmitted at strange times of the day from overseas.

Certainly Formula One has mass fascination, the right word. Genuine fans are far less numerous, and the viewing figures for motor racing are far from beguiling. The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in March 2009 attracted a peak 3.7 million breakfast-time viewers at the closing stages. Those figures were very similar to the Boat Race on a Saturday tea-time, a much less costly British sporting event even if many of the student oarsmen were foreigners... Naturally the morning transmission time explains the low Melbourne figure, accentuating the poor value for BBC expenditure.

It is not only cricket lovers who must pay exhorbitant 'bundled' Sky charges to watch their sport or not at all. In football the BBC declined to spend a small sum on the rights for Scotland's European Championship qualifying campaign, which culminated in 2008 with an important match against Italy.

The ECB are trying to make out that a reduction in Sky money will have a catastrophic effect on the game, and they will make sure that the recreational game suffers most, if past history is a guide.

The Essex letter said: "Counties play a vital part in the continued success of cricket in England and Wales, and any financial pressures on this vital pillar in the national summer game would almost certainly lead to a terminal decline in standards and possible decay of cricket in England."

Note the word 'terminal'. Less satellite income might be read to mean the end of cricket, though this is only a "possible" outcome.

Essex continued: "We pride ourselves on our community engagement. We support our thriving sister organisation, the Essex County Cricket Board which is charged with the recreational and developmental aspects of cricket in the county. Our disability cricket programme has been nationally recognised and a robust plan to further develop women's and girls cricket is well advanced, and in partnership with Essex County Council and the DCSF we have a well established Playing for Success Learning Centre on site which provides a vital educational service to local schools and colleges." Threat: The disabled, schools, underprivileged and youths will bear the brunt. The emotional card.

"At Essex we installed floodlights at the Ford County Ground in 2003 - only the second permanent installation at that time. But any future investment is threatened by the recommendations of the flawed findings of the David Davies Advisory Panel report into Free to Air Listed Events." Threat: Future upgrading might be put on hold... or might not.

"The recommendation that live coverage of the Ashes home Test series is protected for free to air broadcasters is not a scenario that anyone wanted - not cricket, nor any of the terrestrial broadcasters. Yet it has become a recommendation, made without consideration to the financial implications, which could damage cricket's delicate eco-system." That is not true. There are many people who would like Ashes to be reserved for terrestrial.

"Without the income levels we receive from ECB then the county staffs, the county investment and in some cases the county existence would be put at risk. There has been much nonsense written about county cricket wages. The average for a county player in the domestic game is less than £47,000 a year - the sort of wage a player would be paid per week at some Premiership soccer clubs. The amount of income spent on players' wages is around 27 per cent which again is not comparable with other sports. The counties are also 18 centres of excellence which offer cricketers the chance to better their careers." The mention of Premier League football is a reminder that football matches are spread around through satellite and terrestrial.

"The potential damage of listing the home Ashes Test series is incredibly serious for the health of our sport. Initial indications by independent rights consultants have suggested a reduction in ECB income of at least £100 million over a four-year period." This can only be a ballpark figure, independent or not, but there will be financial damage. It underlines the failure of the BBC under Roger Mosey.

Posted by Charlie Randall
25/02/2010 13:27:43

ECB note club cricket boom

THE number of recreational cricketers in England and Wales is still likely to be rising sharply, according to figures compiled by the ECB from their annual survey of Focus Clubs, suggesting that the dire shortage of cricket on terrestrial television has not had a dampening effect on youthful aspirations as might be expected.

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The 1,079 clubs, approved and suported by the ECB for their youth sections and attention to coaching, are responsible for a 15 per cent increase in participation across the men, women and youth sector. This follows rises of 24 per cent and 27 per cent noted in the previous two years.

Readers will not be surprised to know that youth cricket continues to attract newcomers, with 13 per cent more boys and 27 per cent more girls than last year. Men's category rose by five per cent and women by 11 per cent. The only drawback with such a select study is that little is known about the large number of clubs outside the 'focus' family. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some smaller clubs might be struggling, perhaps village ones.

Another question raised by the survey is that if youth numbers are rising year on year, there should be a proportionate increase in adult participation as youth players graduate up the ranks, but men participation has risen by only five per cent. This suggests that an age-old problem persists -- youth cricketers are still dropping out of the game at about the 18-20 year old mark.

Commenting on the increase in participation across grassroots cricket David Collier, chief executive of the ECB, said: "For cricket to be able to satisfy this increase in demand itís essential we continue to invest in building and renovating much-needed pavilions, pitches, and practice facilities. Without this continued level of investment there is no doubt we will not be able to cater for the increased number of children who are choosing to play cricket."

Off the field, the ECB said that the Sky Sports Coach Education Programme had helped deliver a 14 per cent increase in qualified cricket coaches, with the number of sessions going up by 13 per cent from 2008 levels. In the last four years this scheme has been responsible for bringing over 23,000 new coaches into the recreational game to cater for the ever-increasing numbers of children wanting to play cricket.

CHARLIE SAYS: Nevertheless there should be more cricket on terrestrial television.

Posted by Charlie Randall
30/11/2009 18:25:35

Old Trafford is coming alive

LANCASHIRE have launched a campaign to guarantee Ashes cricket on the back of their proposed £47 million development of Old Trafford, urging the public to give their support via a new website called www.oldtraffordashes.co.uk.

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Details of the sports-led regeneration scheme can be accessed, and county are looking for messages of encouragement as the stakes in the contest to host international cricket continue to rise. Jim Cumbes, the chief executive, said the next few months from November would be "critical" to the future of the famous ground. "Lancashire County Cricket Club really needs cricket and sports fans throughout the North West and further afield to pledge their support for this redevelopment," he said. "Letters of support could make all the difference, so we urge everyone to visit this website today."

Old Trafford was omitted from the Test rosta against Australia in 2009 for only the third time in 150 years. Lancashire announced this week that plans had been submitted plans to Trafford Council for the re-development of the cricket ground and surrounds, an area covering 50 acres.

Warming to their task, Lancashire then anounced that pop singer and cricket fan Lily Allen had been made an Honorary Member in an interview before she went on stage in Manchester on Nov 17. This was in recognition of her promotion of the game nationally and internationally. She was presented with a bat signed by the Lancashire players, including Andrew Flintoff, one of her great admirers. Cumbes said: "Lilyís admission over summer that she loves her cricket, particularly Test cricket, certainly increased the profile of the sport and this will hopefully lead to more people becoming involved in cricket."

The MCC have already announced ambitious plans for a £400 million redevelopment of Lord's which will take capacity up to 36,990 and include a vast underground facility below the Nursery Ground.

The proposals, titled the Vision for Lord's, would be the largest redevelopment in the ground's 195-year history, and would be funded partly by selling flats around the periphery. The MCC strenuously deny that they will be selling ground-naming rights. The new design is being overseen by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, whose works include the Tate Modern art gallery and the 'Bird's Nest' Olympic stadium in Beijing. If Westminster City Council and MCC members approve the plans work could begin in 2011, and take 10 years to complete.

The most striking aspect of the scheme is the new underground facility, extending from disused railway tunnels, will include a new academy featuring 10 pitches that will simulate conditions overseas through use of different types of synthetic grass.

The Old Trafford proposals have been brought forward by a partnership between the club, Trafford Council, Ask Developments and Tesco with the intention of transforming the historic venue into one of the countryís premier sporting destinations.

The plans include a Tesco store, with approximately 100,000 sq ft retail sales floor space providing over 500 jobs, half of which would be guaranteed for the local long-term unemployed. The store has been earmarked for land on nearby Chester Road. The development, it was claimed, will bring investment of at least £70 million into parts of Trafford which suffer from low levels of economic activity and employment. It will generate an estimated 71,000 additional visitors to Old Trafford each year, creating a further £1 million per year additional spend in the local economy. It will include new facilities offering a host of educational and training opportunities for the local community.

Phase One of the development is already under way, with a new conference and events suite, called The Point, under construction and due for completion in July 2010. Lancashire say that the striking new designs for Phase Two by architects BDP aim to retain the heritage and history of the famous ground by enhancing the existing pavilion, as well as adding stunning new player and media facilities, conferencing, hotel facilities and an extension to the highly successful indoor Cricket School. Two new grandstands will ensure a capacity of 15,000 capable of rising to 25,000 with temporary seating. There will also be floodlights and a screen showing action replays.

Posted by Charlie Randall
18/11/2009 17:42:28

Ashes: Elstow ease their pain

THE ASHES will have the hottest ticket in town this summer, but overwhelming popularity can cause pain. One club is so disillusioned with the ECB's high pricing and restricted ticket availability that they have arranged their own Australian 'ashes' weekend at their own ground in Bedfordshire.

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Elstow CC have been sending a large party from the village to the Friday of Test matches at Edgbaston every season since the early 1990s, whoever the opposition, and they shared harder times with England. But this year they were knocked back by a sharp rise in ticket price to £75 and a maximum of two tickets per application.

Committee member Phil Johnson said: "This year Warwickshire CCC informed us that despite our longstanding loyalty to Edgbaston and England, we would not be entitled to a group booking. Unsurprisingly the boys were gutted. Our bus driver Dave nearly broke down when he was informed that the annual trip to our cricketing mecca was off."

Elstow's letter of complaint did not even get a reply. "The response to this setback was unanimous," Johnson said. "Just when all seemed lost, one olí boy had an epiphany. If Elstow could not go to the Ashes, the Ashes would come to Elstow."

The villagers have arranged a two-day 'Test' against an Australian Invitation XI at their own ground on July 25 and 26 for the benefit of a cancer charity and club funds. They have even advertised a weekend package as a parody of the real thing. For £45, you can have hotel accomodation, breakfast, entrance to the event and an Elstow Ashes T-shirt.

Johnson said that the club would never again send a party to a Test at Birmingham. "It is a real shame about Edgbaston's actions. We all realise that there would be a lot of interest from this summer's Ashes, but considering we have been loyal to them for the best part of 20 years it really shows how little they care about the people. I am absolutely positive this type of action, plus raising the ticket prices 50 per cent, the ECB will effectively shoot themselves in the foot in terms of future ticket sales and the immense atmosphere Edgbaston usually generates."

Now the search has started for some opposition at Elstow for the big weekend. "We need Australians to play, support, eat, drink, have fun and give a bit of banter," says the invitation. Food and drink will be flowing throughout the two-day match, with a live band, entertainment and an auction on the Saturday night. The club, located just south of Bedford on the A6 road, hopes to attract large support and publicity.

"Our aim is simple," said Johnson. "It's to provide a rollicking one-off weekend that celebrates the unique sporting rivalry that is The Ashes and all it entails." Elstow even hope to win the game...

Posted by Charlie Randall
19/06/2009 09:29:13

Dutch deserve more from England

HOLLAND beat England in the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 at Lord's fair and square. The result was a shock and they should not have been allowed to scramble two runs off the final ball, but their batting down the order was superior on the day.

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Part of me rejoiced at this upset because Dutch cricket has been neglected and patronised by England's authorities and professional counties for too long. In fact, the indifference has been close to criminal.

Many people do not realise that club cricket has been played regularly in Holland for well over 100 years. The game was introduced by the British during the Napoleonic wars and took root. The Dutch Cricket Union was established in 1883. Yet how much progress has been made by England's near neighbour in all this time? Hardly any at all.

The Dutch did not lay their first turf pitches until 1997-- at Deventer and at their headquarters in Amstelveen. By 2008 this number had risen to only six such strips after more than a century on matting.

If England's counties had had their way, Dutch cricket would have made no advances at all. In 1995 Holland were allowed to compete in the NatWest Trophy, a knockout competition, but this lasted only 10 years before they were slung out. It was understandable that, with only one game guaranteed, they made little impact. After investment in turf pitches, the Dutch were hoping in vain for a chance to enter the Benson & Hedges Cup when several games against counties would be assured in the group stages.

In the current Friends Provident Trophy groups, Ireland and Scotland have been welcome 'outsiders' with the opportunity of competitive cricket against professional players. But Holland? No, not them.

Ali Bacher, while serving on an ICC development group in the late 1990s, pointed out the oddity of Holland benefiting so little as long-term neighbours of a major Test nation. He diplomatically stopped short of giving the ECB a real slating, but he made a plea for more support to be given to lesser nations. Privately he was saddened and a little angry at the English attitude. He said in an interview in The Independent newspaper that cricket was under threat and had to broaden its appeal. "In Holland, for example, they've had cricket for 100 years but there are still only 5,000 players," he said. It was indeed amazing.

The counties remain happy to sign Dutchmen such as Ryan Ten Doeschate (Essex) and Alexei Kervezee (Worcestershire), the only two playing championship cricket in 2009. Their playing experience at this level should strengthen the Dutch national side, but England's First Class Forum simply must do more, even if flights to Schipol drain more of the much trumpeted Sky Television money.

Posted by Charlie Randall
07/06/2009 13:07:32

Let Aussies have their try-out

IT IS easy to condemn counties for allowing Australian players to sample English conditions before the Ashes series starts this summer, but the England management have at least been given an opportunity that would not be open to them otherwise to assess weaknesses.

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On balance these visits should be welcomed. If England players are so often prevented from visiting the shires by the ECB, foreign internationals step into the void for the long-suffering county spectators. A good example is Phillip Hughes. The left-hander has been playing for Middlesex for the first part of the season until July, and his county coach Toby Radford has been given a uniquely close insight into his method. This offsets the Australian's heaven-sent opportunity to try out te Ashes environment.

Hughes, only 20, has hit runs galore for Middlesex, and Radford said on the ECB website that dismissing him would not be easy for England's attack. "Technically, he has his own method of playing," he told the TwelfthMan Podcast. "He virtually shows you middle and off stump so bowlers are finding that if they are bowling in their normal corridor they are actually getting cut to balls that should be going to mid-off.

"The tactic then has been to go around the wicket and try bowling at leg stump and cramping him for room, but he manages to get the ball down to fine-leg or move the front leg out and hit over deep midwicket." Radford added that the England captain Andrew Strauss had seen him at close quarters when batting at the other end. "He is probably thinking to go around the wicket too, but itís not as simple as that."

The aggressive Hughes, from New South Wales, hit two centuries in his second Test in his debut series in South Africa. "He's a very talented player and picks length very quickly," said Radford. "Even in four-day cricket he is so aggressive. He is always looking to score; he goes in with a very positive mind-set.

"Heíll have the odd nick that goes down to third man or fine-leg, he'll play and miss a couple of times and then suddenly he'll have three shots that bullet over the boundary. Heís frustrating for bowlers to bowl at, and heís strong mentally. He's been really impressive. You wouldn't coach the method he has got, but he has got great hand-eye co-ordination and rarely misses the ball. Heís been terrific in the dressing room as well. He loves to do well and he's come and done that."

Posted by Charlie Randall
01/06/2009 16:40:42

ECB cut all Stanford links

THE Stanford party is officially over, and the sceptics have been proved correct. The ECB have served notice that they are terminating with immediate effect their contracts with the Stanford group, having already budgeted for the collapse of the proposed programme.

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The ECB confirmed in an announcement that they would not be proceeding with any further Stanford Twenty20 matches in Antigua or the Stanford-sponsored international Quadrangular Twenty20 events in England, due to be held at Lordís in May. At a meeting of the ECB executive committee on Feb 20, chief executive David Collier confirmed the notice sent to counties the previous day that the executive committee and ECB Board, during the budget process, had taken a prudent view to income from a number of sources.

As a result, the termination of the Stanford agreements had no impact on the projected fee payments to counties and the Recreational Assembly. John Pickup, chairman of the Recreational Assembly, commented: "At a time when the global economic climate is putting great pressure on sponsorship and finances for club and community sport, the ECB have taken a responsible and prudent attitude to its financial planning.

"The report from the chief executive demonstrated the wisdom of this approach, and it is pleasing to receive confirmation that the commitments from ECB within the memorandum of understanding for the Recreational Assembly are to be fulfilled. Over the past four years we have made great strides in the funding for the recreational game, and the certainty of income has been a key factor in the game being able to deliver increases in participation numbers in excess of 20 per cent in each of the past two years."

David East, chief executive of Essex and a member of the ECB executive committee, said: "The communication from ECB yesterday that the termination of the Stanford agreements would not negatively impact our fee payments was a great relief to all counties. Today the further confirmation of this fact allows counties to move forward with their 2009 budgets given that, for some counties the ECB fee payment accounts for the majority of their income.

"The economic climate is very difficult at present, in particular in the area of sponsorship and corporate hospitality, and therefore a solid income base through the ECB fee payments is critical to all counties, which is why we were anxious to receive this confirmation. The executive committee fully supported the Board's decision to terminate the Stanford agreements."

Collier added: "The ECB weres shocked by the charges filed against the Stanford organisation and personnel earlier this week by the SEC. Within minutes of the announcement the ECB determined to suspend any further discussions with Stanford, and the Board has now agreed to terminate the ECBís agreements with Stanford. Given the uncertainty of the financial markets and the sponsorship dispute between Digicel and the West Indies Cricket Board over the matches in Antigua in 2008, the executive committee and Board when setting the 2009 budgets took a prudent position in creating a contingency in case the Antigua matches did not proceed. For that reason ECB were able to confirm immediately to counties and the Recreational Assembly that there would be no impact on fee payments in 2009."

 

Posted by Charlie Randall
20/02/2009 23:13:24
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