ECB rail against touts
THE ECB have welcomed the publication of proposals by the Government to protect major sporting events from touting, especially the warnings that legislation could be introduced to curb reselling in the secondary market. The Ashes this summer will be the hottest ticket in town.
The ECB's chief executive David Collier said: “Touting has become a scourge on all major sporting events. The short term impact is to price out fans, the longer term impact could be to turn people, in particular families, away from the sport. That is why the ECB and international match venues are taking decisive action to clamp down on their activities at this summer’s ICC World Twenty20 and npower Ashes series.
"We understand that sports themselves have a key role to play in stopping touting. That is why we are committing considerable resource to the fight and have already succeeded in cancelling hundreds of touted tickets for the major events of this summer. We have also introduced an electronic exchange system for the ICC World Twenty20 which provides supporters with the opportunity to dispose of tickets which, for genuine reasons, they can no longer utilise through an official channel .
“The ECB can only do so much to prevent touting. To be really effective we need to strengthen our partnership with Government. The ECB is pleased the Government has issued a formal consultation to address touting, which has spread due to the efficiency of electronic systems. We will take this opportunity to demonstrate the work we are doing and make the case that, unless the secondary market addresses the sale of tickets above face value, new legislation is needed.
"The ECB have previously proposed to the secondary market that they work with us to prevent touting abuses at the very top matches. Unfortunately they have not agreed. We hope the clear statement of intent from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport makes them reconsider their actions.”
The ECB has been campaigning for greater regulatory action against touting for several years and David Collier has been a member of the Government's ticket touting summits. The ECB recently published their own guidance to supporters on touting, including the establishment of an email hotline to report suspected ticket touts. More information is available at:
Posted by Charlie Randall
England suspects are 'dollared'
ENGLAND'S pathetic decline in Jamaica on Saturday happened one day after the Indian Premier League auction had been completed in Goa, and the juxta position of events underlined an important element in cricket's current swirl -- without honour in his own country a cricketer is little more than a wedge of banknotes.
Though the announcements of how many American dollars Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff should earn in India attracted some interest in the United Kingdom, very few cricket followers here actually care what happens in the IPL fixtures. For example, the identity of the reigning champions -- Rajasthan Royals -- barely registers.
When the million-dollar men Pietersen and Flintoff become part of a humiliating defeat in the West Indies -- all out for 51 on a flat pitch at Kingston -- their overblown monetary status looks hollow. They become cricketers without respect, and even more so if they disappear to join the IPL circuit without repairing the damage. It is not too late to redeem themselves in the Test series, but the respect Pietersen commands within the dressing-room, let alone outside, could shrink as fast as my bank account after his undermining of coach Peter Moores.
Many England supporters might feel that Pietersen has nothing to lose and that he can simply walk away into the IPL to become Bangalore's biggest celebrity. Maybe he could become the biggest name in the whole of India, which would be marvellous for him. The problem is that loyalty to the national cause simply cannot be guaranteed, whatever he might say, and some of the South African's team-mates might well think the same.
The ECB cannot escape most of the blame for England's present plight. They appointed a managing director specifically to run the international team and, incredibly, there was a major fall-out between captain and coach occurs within a year, an unprecedented schism. That official, Hugh Morris, has lashed up and must be moved sideways as soon as possible.
The selectors, Geoff Miller and Ashley Giles, have not done their job. The 'left field' hunch to bring in Nottinghamshire's Australian swing bowler Darren Pattinson against South Africa last summer was a predictable failure. England's chronic batting problem has not been tackled. While Strauss, Cook and Bell form the top order -- Bell stays at No 3 despite overwhelming statistical evidence that this is wrong -- every innings will start by wading through treacle. Nothing will be lost by offering Rob Key, of Kent, a chance to open and giving Owais Shah a long try-out.
Personally I would encourage Pietersen to have a nice long trip to Bangalore and not come back until the Ashes series has finished. He would at least earn respect through absence, especially if he helps Indian cricket by coaching children and so on. No one is indispensible.
Posted by Charlie Randall
Crowds roll up for counties
THE increasing prominence of the Twenty20 format has led to a big rise in the number of spectators watching county cricket, despite the miserable weather last summer.
The ECB announced today that domestic attendances in 2008 had risen by 23 per cent from 2007 to a total of 1.5 million, a figure unprecedented since data was first collected with the formation of the ECB in 1997. When including international games, attendances rose by 10 per cent, with more than 2.2 million spectators logged in 2008, the highest figure yet logged.
The public appetite for the Twenty20 Cup showed no sign of dwindling. With more matches on the schedule, total audiences rose 36 per cent to 593,717. The longer form produced encouraging returns, with the much maligned NatWest Pro40 recording a rise of four per cent. The Friends Provident Trophy crowds slipped, though interest remained significantly higher than 2005 when straight knockout was abandoned for the group system borrowed from the defunct Benson & Hedges Cup.
According to the ECB, the LV Championship attendances topped half a million for the first time since 2003 and rose 30 per cent on the previous year, probably because of greater interest in Durham in their title season.
The ECB chief executive David Collier said: "Many counties have invested heavily in their facilities, offering a vastly improved spectator experience which, coupled with some thrilling cricket in 2008, ensures the fabric of our sport remains strong."
CHARLIE SAYS: County cricket is a better prospect for spectators than it used to be, though there is plenty of room for improvement. Thought could be given to introducing more imaginative trailer food -- financially motivated franchises don't seem to work very well from the eating point of view -- and I think it is time to scrap admission charges for four-day cricket, especially for the third and fourth days.
Posted by Charlie Randall
Clarke and ABC of cricket
THE ECB have left it until today to confirm that Lord Marland of Odstock has challenged Giles Clarke for a chairman's election, with the ultimate winner taking office on April 1.
Lord Marland has been regarded as the 'ABC' candidate - "anyone but Clarke" -- proposed by Lancashire and seconded by Hampshire and Leicestershire. Clarke's critics during his tenure would cite the continued absence of cricket on terrestrial television, the Stanford fiasco, the Pietersen-Moores sackings and some flaky Twenty20 direction as damaging the game. He has been proposed by Nottinghamshire and seconded by Northamptonshire and Middlesex.
The voting starts with a confidential ballot of 19 parties in the First Class Forum -- the professional counties and the MCC -- with the simply-majority result due on Feb 10. This preferred candidate goes before the full ECB membership of 41 for ratification and a Feb 25 announcement.
Lord Marland, given credit for planning Boris Johnson's successful Mayor of London campaign, has already given radio interviews from that happy position outside the turmoil. Clarke at least has tried to give firm leadership at the sharp end.
CHARLIE SAYS: The Pietersen-Moores blow-up is more the fault of the ECB professional staff employed to prevent exactly that. Clarke seems at fault for poor diplomacy and lack of vision tackling the world 20-overs shakedown, which has left the ECB exposed politically and divided. Nevertheless the wheels of Lord's have never moved swiftly in a changing landscape -- which might be just as well. I would be surprised if Marland were to win, but a close vote would be an effective warning shot.
Posted by Charlie Randall
Moores is not the merrier
RUMOURS of a lack of rapport between England's captain Kevin Pietersen and the coach Peter Moores seem well founded, with Michael Vaughan emerging as perhaps a key figure.
The personalities of Moores and his predecessor Duncan Fletcher could hardly be more different, with Moores an open character of nervous energy and the notoriously reserved Fletcher the calmer more fatherly figure. Both men are highly proficient in the mechanics of cricket.
The situation is due to be discussed with Hugh Morris, the ECB's cricket managing director, within the next couple of weeks, and the issue is bound to be the treatment of Vaughan by the selectors and his value, now lost, as an advisor and confidant to Pietersen.
One problem is that Moores has less experience of Test cricket than his captain, though that did not prevent a provincial coach such as John Buchanan enjoying prolonged success guiding Australia. Fletcher had little international experience on his CV when appointed by England.
Most people would agree that Vaughan is barely worth his place as a batsman, though his departure has had a greater effect on Pietersen than had been expected. For all his outward confidence the new captain is vulnerable in the cerebral department while leading a less than confident team without a good nucleus of fully established players.
The sernior players are not quite right. Andrew Strauss, in form as a batsman, has only just returned to favour. Alistair Cook, though a captain of the future, is too young and not really part of the Pietersen world of glamour. Ian Bell is simply uninspiring, and the rest of the nucleus, including Andrew Flintoff, might not like Pietersen as much as Pietersen likes himself.
Pietersen, however, fully deserved to take over from Vaughan last summer and he comes over as a good leader. Buchanan, never a top performer as a player, was content to allow his captains Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting drive their settled successful team as experienced internationalists. Moores does not have that luxury with a fragile team.
It is difficult to believe that the ECB will be faced with a 'one man must go' dilemma because that would reflect very badly on the captain and coach, who are paid by the ECB to serve the national team. Pietersen, while naturally craving success, will have to loosen his grip with the past and forge his own way, however painful. Retaining Vaughan would be a short-term measure -- transient at best.
Significantly Moores established a rapport with his Sussex captain Chris Adams during the glory years at Hove. They did not always agree, but there was respect. Why respect has diminished in the England camp is not yet known.
Moores took over from Fletcher in April 2007 after Fletcher had made a horrible hash of the previous winter, followed by a miserable World Cup. Moores is much more open to fellow coaches and directors on the county circuit, but the flow of high class players -- certainly batsmen -- is still disappointingly sluggish.
However, it would be fair to say England were very unlucky to lose the home Test series to India last summer, when the weather denied them at Lord's, and they were more competitive in India this winter than for many years. South Africa have revealed themselves as exceptional by beating England and Australia in away series.
Perhaps the answer might be for the former Test captain Mike Gatting to involve himself more as a consultant, combining that with his ECB trouble-shooting job of managing director of cricket partnerships. He could be seconded for limited periods to assist in Test series while the captain and coach gain experience. Failing that, perhaps Graham Gooch or Graham Thorpe could be similarly used.
Posted by Charlie Randall
Riches vanish in the haze
WHEN something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Players in the England and the Middlesex squads might have suspected that to earn thousands and thousands of pounds by showing up for a few 20-over jousts was simply too easy for comfort.
Now dreams of lucre have been dashed. England, after earning nothing from their pathetic 10-wicket defeat in the Stanford match against the 'All Stars' in Antigua, look like earning less than nothing from Sir Allen Stanford in the future. And Middlesex's chance of big money in the Champions League in India has been postponed until probably October.
Even the Indian Premier League is not yet the cash-cow that the investors had hoped. The heavy initial outlay will take time to recoup in the worsening recession, and the more modest Champions League, an international event, could prove to be the real long-term winner. Stanford failed to sell £10 million worth of broadcasting rights for his England-Caribbean venture and might well pull the plug, even though his desire to help West Indies cricket cannot be doubted.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said they were unaware of reports that the Texan was considering pulling out of the five-year deal, which included pumping money into the English Twenty20 Cup and expanding it with two foreign teams. Even the winner-takes-all Stanford match might be discontinued, which would be a shame for those individuals hoping to pocket about £640,000 in the future as the West Indian victors did in October.
The only evidence so far that the Stanford bubble might burst is the termination of the contracts enjoyed by the eight West Indian 'Legends' for fronting the cricket, including Sir Viv Richards, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. The Stanford ideal is not doomed, though the cash mountain might have to be shaved down.
To amend a comment by Al Capone -- "you get much further with a kind word and wads of cash than you can with a kind word alone" -- the Stanford affair and the IPL have destabilised international cricket. Capone used a gun, but a wealthy Texan and the Indian Cricket Board have used the same tactic with power.
For example, the persecution of the unofficial Indian Cricket League, who filled a void the Indian authorities initially ignored, has been deplorable, and the promise of significant money has turned the heads of players, leading to the cancellation of Sri Lanka's tour of England next summer.
The black bats used for the Stanford match did not conform to the Laws of Cricket, as interpreted by the custodians MCC; yet the ECB turned a blind eye. This vulgarity was hardly good for 20-over cricket, an excellent vehicle for public interest.
A judge in London prevented Stanford from marginalising the long-suffering West Indies sponsors, Digicel, with an outrageous conjuring trick. The idea that the All Stars was not the West Indies always seemed far-fetched and, indeed, did not pass the scrutiny of the arbitration court. Thank goodness the two warring corporations had the sense not to fritter away their sponsorship money on a High Court battle.
The West Indies Board have been made to look like idiots, not for the first time, and the ECB have been too vulnerable to the Stanford foot in the door sales pitch. The ECB will benefit from a fee of more than £2 million from the Twenty20 game in Antigua, but from now on expectations will have to be tempered with a dollop of scepticism.
Posted by Charlie Randall
ECB wave their own wads
THE England and Wales Cricket Board have approved a huge rise in prize money for LV County Championship, with the winners to receive £350,000 in 2009.
The Durham team shared £100,000 for the title last summer, plus extra for each match won, so the new levels will be significant, especially as the successful county club will benefit in 2009 with an additional £150,000. The total prize money and reward payment for the Championship will rise to £1,060,000. The runners-up will receive £175,000, with £50,000 to their county. In 2008 the runner-up players received a mere £40,000.
There are also significant rises in the prize money and reward payments for the winners of the final NatWest Pro40 competition and of the Friends Provident Trophy, which will have its final in late July.
David Collier, the ECB chief executive, said: "The ECB board strongly believe that it was important to increase the prize fund available to all competitions on the back of the rise of the opportunities provided by Twenty20 cricket, and we were particularly anxious to increase the money that was available for the winners of the LV County Championship to £500,000. This reflects the ECB's commitment to the LV County Championship and the npower Test Matches as the pinnacle of the game.
"These increases reward both players and counties and in a difficult economic climate demonstrate the strength of cricket and our confidence in the domestic game."
CHARLIE SAYS: At last countiy clubs will not lose money by winning the championship, as has often been the case in the past when players' meagre winnings are topped up with incentive bonuses. County cricket and the ECB might well struggle financially next summer in the economic downturn. So thank goodness for the Australians and the likelihood of a competitive Ashes series.
Posted by Charlie
Village Cup now goes 'village'
NEW RULES WILL FORCE OUT THE HOLDERS
ECB DIVERT CLUB RESOURCES TO TWENTY20
THE face of club cricket will start to change next year when the ECB divert resources to their national twenty20 competition, and there will be a fundamental rule change in the village cup, with a ban on the controversial importing of league players and marginalising clubs with 'professionals' within their structure.
The Npower National Village Cup will become more 'village' after concern at the abused practice of Saturday players from other clubs representing a village on Sundays. These recruits might be straight Premier League pot-hunters or those affectionately returning to their old haunts to seek some glory for their mentors.
The Wisden Cricketer
magazine, the organisers, announced the rule change in their November issue, saying that it was felt that the practice of using players from outside a club was "not in keeping with the spirit of the village competition". The participation of ECB premier league teams was rightly stopped years ago, but clubs with professional structures, especially those using overseas assistance, have become ineligible -- including Valley End, this year's winners, who pay the air fare for a player used for league games. This practice, followed by many clubs, now falls within the new definition of professionalism in rule 9 iii.
Valley End, the first club from Surrey to win, fielded three premier leaguers in the 'old boy' category perfectly legally, but from 2009 onwards players will be ineligible for the cup if they belong to another club. The Saturday imports issue threatened to destabilise the competition, with several clubs -- possibly a high number -- considering a boycott under the existing rules. The weight of feeling was reflected recently on this website when more than 170 comments were appended to a report of the 2008 final at Lord's between Valley End and Woodhouse Grange.
For that sometimes heated discussion about the Valley End principle, see 'news and views' above, 'other news' and click on 'club cricket'.
The ECB's flagship club event becomes the Cockspur Twenty20 in 2009 after this year's final in Cardiff where John Graham inspired South Northumberland to a 54-run win over their London opponents Stanmore under lights at the Swalec Stadium in September, televised by Sky Sports. The beaten semi-finalists were Bracebridge Heath and St Just. 'South-North' have been familiar powerhouses in the 45-over National Cup. So perhaps the balance of power will not change much in future, whatever the competition.
Cockspur have switched their sponsorship from the old 45-over competition that has been running since 1969. The ECB announced today that they would not be scrapping it, even if new sponsors could not be found, though it will be reduced in size and the final will not be held at Lord's next year. This follows consultation with the League Cricket Conference, Club Cricket Conference, Midlands Club Cricket Conference and some individual leagues and clubs.
The ECB’s head of recreational cricket Paul Bedford said: "Sunday afternoon cricket is important and essential to the health of the recreational game. Twenty20 cricket is more than just the game and provides an opportunity for people to come to cricket in the evening, it enables young players to mix with older players, is a great platform for attracting volunteers to the game and provides a vibrant and inclusive environment for club cricket."
The ECB said the maximum possible entry for the national club championship would be 256 teams in 2009, with no clubs from Scotland allowed. All 2008 entries from England and Wales have been invited to be considered for inclusion, but it might be necessary to limit the numbers. Alongside this, the Cockspur Club Twenty20 qualifiers from 25 Premier League set-ups enter a knockout phase, with the finals at a prestige venue.
The shift of emphasis away from the old national cup, which started with Hampstead's win over Pocklington Pixies in 1969, has coincided with the demise of the Evening Standard Trophy, a well respected 50-overs knockout for the London area that began in 1992, with the final at the Oval. The newspaper ended its sponsorship this winter, and no alternative backers have been found.
The prestige of the old flagship national competition will remain for the time being, though the ambitions of the vast majority of entrants will remain be limited to area finals. Only a few elite clubs have a realistic chance of reaching the final, though whether that matters or not is open to conjecture.
The 20-over format has been popular at club level for more than 50 years and that will not change. The ECB have been persuaded not to leave the knockout cups to the leagues and county boards, and it might be significant that in Middlesex, for example, interest in restricted knockout competition seems to have weakened.
The ECB announced that the following criteria would be used in judging suitable entries for the national championaship: 1) Player registration carried out on the Club’s Play-Cricket site 2) League and Division that the Club plays in on a Saturday 3) Standard of ground and ancillary facilities 4) Previous history of the Club in the competition.
The draw for each group will be seeded, as in previous years, based on the record of the club in the previous season both in this competition and in the Premier League, Premier Divisions. The entry fee for the competition in 2009 will be £50.
The village cup retains the prestige of a Lord's final, on a Monday again in 2009, and one wonders if removal of this aspect of glory would reduce interest in the competition.
Posted by Charlie
Reducing counties is no option
By Mark Harrison
HALF of county captains believe there are too many first class counties in the English game, according to an end-of-season survey in a cricket magazine.
Opinions in The Wisden Cricketer
are evenly split on the perennial issue, with Kent skipper Rob Key suggesting a maximum of 10 teams to ensure the best players playing against each other, week-in-week-out. Outgoing Yorkshire captain Darren Gough agrees, but believes that "nobody is ever going to do anything about it". Defending the status quo is Warwickshire’s Darren Maddy, who said: "I am a traditionalist and I respect the traditions of all the counties."
There is no such division of opinion when it comes to the amount of cricket and time to prepare. Fifteen captains say there is too much domestic cricket played, and 16 agree there is too little time for preparation throughout the season. Chris Adams, who has stood down as Sussex captain, said: "There is precious little time for recovery and time away from the game, which is fundamentally important."
Maddy agrees, saying: "It’s unfair not just on the players but on spectators who turn up to see players performing at 75-80 per cent effort."
Another area of almost universal agreement is the belief that two divisions have improved the Championship, with 17 of the 18 captains backing this view. Somerset’s Justin Langer said: "Young players who do well in the top division are ready to play international cricket. You couldn’t have said that before."
Despite the hype and glamour of Twenty20 cricket, 15 captains say the Championship remains the most important domestic competition to win. But looking ahead, one anonymous respondent said: "The English Premier League will become the most important competition."
Stuart Law, Lancashire’s former leader agrees, but from a different perspective. "It will be beneficial to counties for financial reasons, rather than cricket reasons," he said in the November issue of the magazine.
In other findings revealed by the survey Kolpak players are seen to have raised the standard of the domestic game by 10 captains, with one making the valid point that "they mentor our young players at a time when the top English players are rarely available due to central contracts".
Twelve captains opposed the idea of a football-style transfer fee system for players, with one saying the balance of wealth is already too extreme, potentially leading to a Premiership-style top four "and that can get boring".
One captain who did back the idea suggested that "a transfer system would be a fantastic way of giving money back invested in the best young players, who in time are bought by larger counties, to the clubs who developed them".
The November issue of The Wisden Cricketer
, the world’s best-selling cricket monthly, is on sale at leading outlets from Oct 17.
CHARLIE SAYS: Reducing the number of counties might be fine in theory, but it would be almost impossible to achieve in practice. In any case 18 teams reflects a UK population that is three times that of Australia, where there are six first class states. There is a case for reducing the number of four-day games and increasing Twenty20 for greater public interest and more income.
Posted by Charlie
James Thompson the fastest
See below for FULL LIST OF QUALIFIERS
THE Kent second-teamer James Thompson, 22, has won the annual fast-bowling contest at Lord's, the climax of 20 roadshows organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The Hartley Country Club all-rounder from Hextable, near Dartford, won the NatWest Speed Stars with 84.6mph, much faster than his roadshow qualifying speed of 73mph. Adil Butt, from Manchester, produced 77mph, the fastest before Lord's.
The NatWest Speed Stars competition, now in its seventh year, is a nationwide search to find the quickest bowlers. All 38 finalists qualified at one of the interactive cricket roadshow sponsored by NatWest. The Roadshow visited town centres, cricket clubs and NatWest Series matches throughout April to September, attracting more than 4,500 entrants. The winners each received a commemorative medal plus a bat signed by the England team from international stars Michael Vaughan, Stuart Broad and Beth Morgan.
CHARLIE SAYS: I wonder if we will ever hear of the qualifiers again.
National winners at Lord's
James Thompson Male adult 84.6mph
Tom Dolby Male under-18 80.2
Muhammed Raza Male under-15 74.0
Junaid Nadir Male under-12 65.5
Sophie Southgate Female adult 51.9
Alice Arnold Female under-18 55.8
Grace Gibbs Female under-15 59.3
Cordelia Griffith Female under-12 57.5
Adil Butt, 77mph, Manchester
James Thompson, 73, Hextable, Nr Dartford
Qasim Akbar, 72, Bradford
Shaukat Syed, 72, Birmingham, U18 winner
Tim Dalton, 72, Woking
Roland Sinclair, 70, Nottingham
Abid Awan, 70, Bradford
Charles Morris, 70, Lympstone, nr Exeter
Khalil Ahamd, 68, Birmingham
Mobine Ali, 68, Birmingham
Tom Forsdike, 66, Chiswick, London
Harpel Ryatt, 66, Bradford
Tom Dolby, 65, Nottingham
Arsalan Rahim, 65, Newcastle
Josh Bateman, 63, Wellingborough, Northants
Joe Spencer, 61, Walton on Thames
Dom Harvey, 60, Nottingham
Muhammed Raza, 60, Croydon
Matthew Regan, 60, Knutsford, Manchester
Junaid Nadir, 60, Blackheath, London
Robert Burgh, 59, Brighton
Joel Barber, 58, Bristol
Harry Woodmansee, 57, Tunbridge Wells
Sophie Southgate, 45, Harwich, Essex, Finalist
Elaine Foxley, 43, Litchfield
Sally Thomlinson, 43, London
Samir Nadir, 42, Blackheath, London
Snowvia Nadir, 42, Blackheath, London
Sarah Damen Wiliems, 54, Lincoln (Under-15 winner)
Thea Franklin, 46, Greenwich, London
Alice Arnold, 44, Bristol
Grace Gibbs, 55, Lewisham, London
Amy Carnwell, 51, Stoke finalist
Katherine Long, 50, London
Bethany Marsh, 49, London
Cordelia Griffith, 49, Chigwell, Essex
Phoebe Franklin, 45, Greenwich, London
Grace Franklin, 41, Greenwich, London
Hannah Verlander, 40, Benfleet, Essex
Posted by Charlie