Inviting or what?


Rather like the pubs up and down the land, cricket clubs in England and Wales are struggling for survival.

Not a season goes by without a club folding or merging in the hope that the merged club will prove a lifeline to the future.

In clubs that remain in existence, there are reports of dwindling membership, lower sides folding and the demise of Sunday cricket. Games are seldom attended by more than club members and the odd diehard supporter of the club or of cricket generally.

In that context, you might be forgiven for thinking that Clubs would be welcoming places, keen to attract people into their ground to watch, buy a drink, join as members or encourage others to come and watch or play.

So this picture above, sent to me by a mate down South, struck me as the antithesis of all such aspirations. Friendly, welcoming or what!

If anyone else seen any similarly inviting signs, do send them in!


Fings Ain’t Wot They Used To Be?


There is no doubting that in his day, Dean Headley was a class act. From a young age, Headley was rubbing shoulders with up and coming overseas and established pros in the Birmingham League. Back then, that was the place to be noticed and put you on the road to the professional game. Headley, speaking recently in the Cricket Paper, reckons that club cricket is not producing the players it should be since the ECB Premier Leagues were introduced and that there is no no clear pathway for aspiring youngsters.

Allowing for the natural tendency to believe that everything was better back in your day, Headley seems to identify the separation of First XI from the rest of their clubs as being at the root of the problem.

The whole idea of Premier Leagues was to replicate Grade Cricket in Australia as being the route to the first class game. That was part of the MacLaurin Report which also recommended getting rid of the clutter of Second XI and Minor Counties Cricket.  While the Premier Leagues were introduced, Minor Counties and Second XI cricket remained and the whole purpose of Premier Leagues foundered.

But to say that they do not produce or develop players for the professional game, is with respect to Headley, simply not the case. Headley was richly talented and found himself playing at the sharp end of club cricket in his teens. Much like today. If you are going to have any real prospect of playing in the professional game today, you need to be good enough to be playing Premier League cricket by the age of 15 or 16.

Generally, the path to the professional game involves playing county representational cricket, first class or minor, and getting into a first class county academy. But that is only half the story and most promising youngsters are already embedded in clubs. Where that club is a premier league club, most talented youngsters appear regularly from a young age. In cases where the promising youngster’s club is not a PL club, he will be encouraged to move to a PL club to continue his development.

The path to professionalism is probably no less tortuous today than it was in Headley’s day, maybe a little more so given the various formats of the game that now exist. Discerning a clear “staircase of and to excellence” is not easy. To someone of Headley’s talent, his ascent to stardom probably looks straightforward from today’s perspective. Little wonder then that he thinks it is all much more difficult today.

But club cricket at Premier League level provides a valuable stepping stone and place of learning for aspiring youngsters not to mention a serious proving ground. It is doing a real job. Not perhaps the one it was designed for but that is through no fault of its own, but a real job nonetheless. Long may it continue.


La La Land


There must be somehting in the air or water at ECB HQ above or the Grey Lubyanka as it is known to some of its inmates. It is as charmless inside as it is out.

The ECB has announced that its all new 8 city comp will not be T20 after all but will be a 100 balls a side – 15 conventional overs and some sort of super over involving 10 balls at the end. Apparently this is going to have them flocking in. I cannot imagine why? It is worth remembering that the ECB invented T20 only to fail miserably in its development as a domestic competition whilst other parts of the world took it to heights that the ECB could only dream off.

If they seriously think that this new format will be any more successful, they must be living in cloud cuckoo land.

Where is all this going to end? Answer: as a complete failure allied to the emasculation of existing forms of cricket which the ECB is allowing to fall by the wayside in its blinkered pursuit of this insane project.





Ed to the Rescue?


The news that Ed Smith has been appointed as an England Selector is bemusing. Having spent the last 10 years building a career as a writer, broadcaster and journalist, a return to the fold in the guise of a selector is a strange one.

Just what does he bring to the party? Well, a big intellect and 10 years’ objective and rather erudite and readable observations on the game. Not to mention a former career in cricket that included a stalled international career. I always felt he was very unlucky at Test level and just didn’t quite get the rub of the green – ironically to the enduring benefit of the man who has now appointed him, Andrew Strauss.

Both at Kent and Middlesex, where he was captain, Smith enjoyed an uneasy and distant relationship with his players, apparently because he was on a completely different intellectual plane. Will this now work in his favour as a selector?

Hard to say becasue at the end of the day, the exercise of choosing which players represent England is a fairly prosaic exercise that varies from format to format. There is much mention these days of adopting a “Moneyball approach” not only to selection of players but also to the tactics that are to be adopted when certain players are batting or bowling. Apparently, “scouts” are to be sent out to run the rule over players becasue Trev the Coach has not got the time (and probably not got the inclinaction) to wander the shires and acquaint himself with who  is hot and who is not.

If we take the England top order and ignore the mantra that “there is no one else out there” and after wading through all the Kolpaks and overseas, the reality is that there are probably no more than half a dozen current candidates waiting in the wings, some of whom have already had a go, others not. So checking them out is hardly going to be a major operation. Ultimately, form apart, selection comes down to “Do we maintain the status quo or do we take a chance”, more often, these days, a leap into the dark. It is hard to see Smith making a real difference or bringing something to the party that is not already there.

I should have thought that Smith is far more effective being out of the system and bringing his intellect and sharp powers of observation to bear on the shortcomings of teams, players coaches and selectors rather that turning his hand to an exercise which will compromise everything he currently does and stands for.


Not Seeing Eye to Eye

The current addition of Private Eye contains an hilarious article about current (for how much longer?) ECB Chairman, Colin Graves. Not content with unashamedly seeking, no by your leave or rather no by the Board of Directors of the ECB’s leave, to create a two speed county system by throwing money at some counties and not others, Graves is now throwing his weight around with ESPN Cricinfo and a its correspondent George Dobell, having instructed legal eagles to fire off a letter before action concerning Dobell’s comments on Graves’ stewardship of the ECB.

Like any bully, he does not pick on the big boys in the playground, preferring to pick on someone smaller. Any chances of suing Dobell and Cricinfo have been thoroughly scotched by the Eye’s intervention, but not before the ECB’s cash has been wasted paying for Graves’ legal costs.

Apparently the Creator Of Costcutter objected to the picture of Graves used on Cricinfo which showed off a terrific set of gnashers. It took a while to racell who they reminded me of, but in the end it came to me – Dick Emery’s vicar!


Ins and Outs

My thoughts turn today to Surrey. Soon to be the cricketing home of recently retired South African quick Morne Morkel. Yet another Kolpak cricketer, one of many. It’s that time of year when the papers contain reviews of First Class Counties’ prospects for the forthcoming season and each County will swell their ranks with two or more overseas players. Of course, Morne does not count as an overseas but de facto he is. I cannot be bothered to do the arithmetic, but if I were to total up the genuine overseas and the all Kolpaks, the number of players not from the UK playing across the 18 First Class counties would add up to a substantial proportion of the  first choice playing force. English cricket is the only place where this happens. You don’t get droves of English professionals migrating to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa for their summers.

What good does this really do for English cricket? Don’t get me wrong, I really admire Morne Morkel for the player he is and all credit to Surrey for maximising his post-international pension pot. But what good do all these Kolpaks and overseas really do? Very few such players materially boost attendances. They might give a county a slightly better chance of gaining promotion or avoiding relegation, but so what? What they do do is present a massive obstacle to the development of the home grown players and if you take the view, as I do, that the sole purpose of county cricket is to identify and nurture home grown talent for the potential benefit of international cricket, the presence of so many players from abroad is utterly perverse.

Already gone from Surrey is Zafar Ansari. The Times reports that he has written  beautifully crafted, almost elegiac piece for the 2018 Wisden explaining his departure from professional cricket. Apparently, this super bright lad (double first from Cambridge etc) struggles with the competitive ethos of sport and its emphasis on personal responsibility. So, to cut a long story short, he bailed out.

Call me an old cynic if you will, but a more prosaic explanation might well be that he was bright enough to realise that by the tender age of 25, he had ticked every box he possibly could in cricket, had gone about as far as he was ever going to go in the game and had no desire to spend the next few years slogging around the circuit in the remote hope of making it back into the England set up in the company some at least who read The Sun upside down (becasue they know no better) and regard farting and practical jokes as the height of humour and social intercourse.

As it is, he has brilliantly augmented his academic CV with a terrific sporting side and will be a “first draft pick” for many a law firm who like that sort of thing. Becasue that is what he currently studying to do. Yes he is studying law, a highly competitive, dog eat dog world with narrow horizons and an emphasis on personal responsibility. In other words, all the characteristics that were the apparent reasons for giving up cricket. Funny that!





Grounds for Optimism. Really?


Overnight, New Zealand managed to do somehting which England have failed now to do for a very long time, which is to bat out the last day of a Test and hold on for a draw. In fairness, England are not alone in lacking that sort of dour resilience, but the fact remains that NZ managed something that you would not back England to do and in doing so, won this Test series.

Jonny Bairstow however thinks that England will begin the summer on an upward curve. He must be delusional in view of the uncertainties and questionmarks that surround this current England side. Neither the batting line up nor the bowling attack is remotely settled. The talismanic Stokes’ form and fitness are all over the shop and he has a lot on his plate. How long has Cook got? And Root too is failing to post big scores too often for comfort. On the bowling front, England remain far too dependent upon Broad and Anderson and seem frightened to make decisive decisions over the rest of the bowling. I could go on.

More interesting however were Bairstow’s observations on Root’s captaincy which amounted to little more than that the learning process had gone well over the winter. Might young JB think he could be doing a much better job? Watch this space?