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Cricket must seize day

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Mihir Bose | 08:00 UK time, Wednesday, 6 May 2009

This should be English cricket's great year.

Not only are the Ashes at stake but the ICC World Twenty20 takes place on these shores in June, the first major international sports event to be held in Britain since the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

More than that, this is an off-year as far as football is concerned, no World Cup or European Championship and no Olympics.

Yet why do I get the impression, shared by many I have spoken to, that the cricket season is creeping in like a thief at night?

County Ground, Nottingham, April 2009

My impression may be coloured by the fact that I have just come back from India where the Indian Premier League's coverage has at times overshadowed the country's elections.

It also does not help that tradition, which matters more in cricket than any other sport, has taken a blow this season with a Lord's Test match not only beginning early in May but on a Wednesday not Thursday and carrying such little conviction for the visitors, that the West Indies captain Chris Gayle only arrived in the country two days before the match.

Not surprising then that tickets for the Test have not gone well and, even allowing for how far the once mighty Windies have fallen, this is a worrying augury for the season.

The reasons may be well known. There is the inexorable rise of IPL. Add to that the fact that the West Indies are the third choice team for the early summer series, after Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka for various reasons had fallen by the wayside.

But even allowing for all that my worry is that English cricket will fail to construct the sort of narrative a sport needs and English cricket craves.

I realise the old narrative has gone and will never return.

The narrative which saw the visiting Australians take in the FA Cup final at the end of April, then drive down to Worcester for the a match starting on 1 May and hammer their way around the country before the Tests began.

Now football never ceases and nor does its appeal. Its ability to combine Victorian pot-boiler with the hypnotic allure of the modern-day sitcoms, so compelling that in the unlikely event of the established Dickensian characters such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger ever fading a new one is always ready to emerge. Guus Hiddink seems to have been barely five minutes in this country yet ..

Cricket has nothing remotely like that to offer. To be fair cricket is not the only sport in search of a narrative. Flat horse racing is particularly aware of this but to its credit it has recognised the problem and is addressing it.

Yes, ideas are being considered to freshen cricket up. Lord's is bidding to stage the first day-night Tests in this country next year, and is looking at having a Middlesex day-night county match later this summer. Starting at 1430 this could see players wearing pastel shades and with two new balls, one for each end. I have long been an advocate of a county match starting at 1430. Not only would it make much of the light we have in the summer but it would mean first-class cricket would be in harmony with club and village cricket.

But welcome as such ideas are they remain isolated. Our cricket administrators remain averse to change and they give the impression that like Mr Micawber they are hoping something will turn up.

It worked in 2005, a season that began slowly but developed into an enthralling Ashes series and a memorable England victory. But as Mr Micawber found out you cannot just wait and hope. You need to venture out and seize the moment.

If English cricket fails to do that in this of all summers then it will have no-one to blame but itself.

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  • 1. At 08:44am on 06 May 2009, jovialStelladave wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 2. At 09:07am on 06 May 2009, Rich_Owl wrote:

    Why would the rise of the IPL affect sales of tickets for the Eng vs WI tests? Surely the rise of IPL gives the sport as a whole more exposure? And its not as though they are in the same country?

    The cricket season ALWAYS starts slowly, primarily due to its overlap with the business end of the football season and the general lack of interest from the media about the county game (the game does not lack 'characters' like Ferguson and Wenger - they do not get the exposiure).

    The most valid point in thsi blog is that the ECB decision to play tests first week in May is what should be looked at. When two opponents pulled out the ECB had the opportunity to cancel this series and allow players time with their counties to get runs on the board and into form. What really affects the scheduling though, is the sheer number of matches and tournaments to be played, as decreed by the ICC. In the 'olden days' the tourists would come for a long time, play five tests and a few ODIs and give time to build a 'narrative'. Now we have to host every test playing nation over a four year period, with series shortened as a result, along with Two world cups (T20 and 50-over), the Champions trophy, and these have to fit in around the scheduling of the IPL (note they don't have to fit in around the English county season or the mid-season break for our domestic T20 competition) and you end up with little choice but to extend the season at either end, and you are no longer surprised by the lack of interest in the county game when England are playing international cricket for 10 months of the year.

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  • 3. At 09:27am on 06 May 2009, Joe G wrote:

    It's hard to see how the rise of the IPL is going to impede Test cricket as you suggest Mihr. It's scheduled to work around the Test matches and limited overs cricket and test cricket have always complimented each other, not competed.

    In all honesty I think any apparant apathy towards the current cricket ongoings is down to a bit of West Indies fatigue (playing the same team home and away seems like overkill) and the usual 'calm before the storm' that precedes an Ashes tour.

    I'm not really sure what you're suggesting the potential consequences of ignoring this apparant malaise are either? You talk about the lack of drama and such like compared to football but cricket has never really competed with football for fans and viewers. People don't not go to cricket matches because they find football so much more appealing as a sport, they go because it's expensive and requires at least eight hours commitment.

    I don't think I can ever recall a single person comment that they wish cricket was more like Premiership football, I think like rugby fans most cricket fans are glad it isn't like the Premiership.

    None of what you say is underpinned by ANY evidence that there is a downturn in the sport.

    Are attendences down? Are broadcasters offering less money (comparatively, taking the credit crunch out of the equation)? How many cricketers have publically stated they see the IPL as a major threat to Test cricket?

    Your entire article is one that implies there is an impending crisis, sites little to no evidence to back this statement up then merely state that if this all come to pass then some people will regret it.

    Insightful stuff...

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  • 4. At 09:28am on 06 May 2009, Ceedeer wrote:

    Maybe my memory is playing tricks but, until quite recently, the FA Cup Final was, I thought, on the first Saturday in May and the tourists first match at Arundel! As regards matches starting at 14.30, in line with Club & Village cricket, what nonsense. The difference is it is First Class Cricket! Also any other excuse to have the players in ill designed, in shape, material & colour, pyjamas should be fought off tooth & nail.

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  • 5. At 09:33am on 06 May 2009, jovialStelladave wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 6. At 09:36am on 06 May 2009, yottskry wrote:

    This year should be a great year to get new supporters interested in cricket, what with the World 20 Twenty and the Ashes in England.
    Unfortunately to enjoy either event one will need to either travel to the grounds or buy Sky TV. It's a real shame that these tournaments can't be enjoyed by more people. The 2005 Ashes were a great spectacle and England's success coupled with terrestrial TV coverage had the nation enthralled. Thanks to the ECB deciding Sky was the way forward, there is no chance of the country being that interested again.

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  • 7. At 09:37am on 06 May 2009, Gareth wrote:

    So what is the solution?

    The only one offerred is that games should start at 2.30 to be "in harmony with club and village cricket". Perhaps the premier league likewise should abandon 3.00 on a saturday completely, in favour of 10am on a Sunday.

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  • 8. At 09:49am on 06 May 2009, hainba wrote:

    The ECB have adverts in all papers and on satellite TV for everything on offer this summer BUT as you stated they're currently in competition with the footballing overkill and other things will dampen public enthusiasm

    1. Recession - only cricket fans will splash out on tickets without a second thought for economising.

    2. BBC national news coverage of county cricket competitions is POOR to non-existant. Only tests warrant a comment or interview.

    3. The public need a timetable / structure that they can follow: instead we mix test, county, one day & 20/20 into a blur of activity.

    Only a string of decent performances by England will invite hope that the ashes will be recaptured and enthus the support of the wider public. But yet again the press talk down the spectacle of test cricket and compare to 2005 when two very different teams were at their peak.

    What is to come should be enjoyed for its own cricketing context....

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  • 9. At 09:52am on 06 May 2009, FredQuimby wrote:

    The simple reason is supply and demand. There is too much cricket and it has lost its sense of occasion. Instead of reducing the quantity and increasing the quality, the ECB seem to be obsessed with 'maximising profits' which is not in the interest of the cricket fan.

    Cricket doesn't need the window dressing of off-field antics such as the Ferguson and Wengers from football, which in itself is an entirely different 'narrative'.

    Sorry to say Mihir, this is another meaningless blog, give it up eh?


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  • 10. At 09:58am on 06 May 2009, Redman wrote:

    I have totally lost interest in cricket now that it is not on TV.

    the schedule seems to be crazy these days too. A test series against the West Indies will be over before the end of the football season. What is going on??

    cricket reached its final high point in this country 4 years ago. I imagine the Ashes this year will barely register with the public this summer. Sad but probably true.

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  • 11. At 10:04am on 06 May 2009, coffeeandnan wrote:

    I am sick of this daft idea, spoken only by those in the media, that the major sports are competting against oneanother for fans. It is a ridiculous idea. There are cricket fans, football fans, golf fans, tennis fans etc.

    The sports may be competing for space in the media, but that doesn't translate to competition for support from the public. Unfortunately, most media people think what happens in the media is the same as what happens in real life. IT ISN'T.

    As a cricket fan, I have a passing interest in football and rugby league, but cricket is number one, and I couldn't care less about Wimbledon, golf or Olympics. Yes, I'm a cricket fan. Perhaps Mr. Bose doesn't understand what to be a fan of a particular sport means. He propagates that absurd view that someone is a fan of sport, generally, rather than a particular sport. It is a view as absurd as saying that soemone will be unaware that a concert of Mozart's music is taking place because there is so much rap music about.

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  • 12. At 10:09am on 06 May 2009, idleIdeas wrote:

    This could be the greatest summer for English cricket ever... but it won't be. "The Great Exhibition"... it's a joke! The fact that the coverage of all the cricket this summer will in the main be done by Sky is a shambles - where does the ECB think the next generation of cricketers is going to come from if coverage of "The Great Exhibition" is not made readily availble to all?

    After our ashes win we had the momentum to really push cricket forward - the nation was enthrawled by an outstanding series of tight competitive cricket. With the firesale of the rights to the highest bidder this has been completely lost. Not to mention the £50 a ticket price tag I've seen on most test match tickets, and £40 a ticket for T20 world cup tickets. People are being priced out of the game - when the ECB have milked the cash cow dry what are they going to do then?

    Quite simply put if people don't see it they don't care. The ECB have got their principles all wrong.

    I took part in a recent government questionaire about the catagorisation of sporting events level A & B. Cricket needs to be protected if the ECB cannot be trusted to make the right choice for the future of the game.

    "The Great Exhibition" - well apart from listening to the radio whenever I can and flipping to the inside pages of the newspapers - I won't be taking part in it!

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  • 13. At 10:27am on 06 May 2009, BakedBeans wrote:


    I think Mihir bashers are already out in full arms.

    English cricket team lost Flintoff ,Colly and Shah without any preparations .Chrish Gayle did not care for this series which was primarly to statisfy sky tv contract.

    English press is more interested in IPL coverage than ENG-WI series....

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  • 14. At 10:27am on 06 May 2009, AndyPlowright wrote:



    If the IPL really has overshadowed the Indian elections, then it is rather ridiculous. If, for instance, Big Brother over the summer took precedence in our nations interest over a national election campaign, goodness knows how many critics would be saying how it was evident of Britains intellectual decline and lack of priorities. So for a cricket tournament to take precedence over the national elections of a country that is ridiculous and shows a lack of priorities.

    Your assertion that the series carries little conviction for the visitors is questionable. You might remember many of the current West Indian side won a large sum of money in the Stanford series (I think you wrote a word or two on that). Can you honestly say that any of those fresh millionaires didnt then look up for the Test series? There was absolute jubilation on the faces of both West Indian player and West Indian spectator when they beat England in the Test series. The long wait was over. Make no mistake, this series is important, irrespective of IPL commitments beforehand. The West Indian players have had their pride restored and they will want to keep it going.

    Ticket sales: oh come on. You judge the sales of tickets for this series as an indicator of cricketing popularity for the entire summer. Have the Ashes games had any sales problems? I think not. Yes, sales arent great for the West Indies games. There are numerous reasons for that. Many who have spent big for the Ashes arent going to be inclined to pay out for the WI series as well, a series that has not exactly been secure over the last few months. The financial situation of the world means people arent going to pay out more for matches (as weve seen with some football crowds). Early season weather is questionable so less people will be inclined to come out for early Tests. The ECB should have been far more proactive in the ticket pricing for this series and come up with some new ideas there though.

    The supposed Dickensian nature of Guus Hiddink cricket doesnt have that? Shane Warne gathered column inches worldwide. Pietersen does the same. We had a farce during the Moores-KP affair to rival anything in Eastenders. Football is easier for the media to construct characters. You see Sir Alex Ferguson as some kind of Dickensian figure. I see a fine manager with a bright red nose who has a tendency to moan about pretty much everything. If you feel that cricket needs to be more media-led, good for you. The media obsession with character mystifies me. It doesnt want success in a dour format. Itd rather have an enigmatic loser. Within cricket, the idea is that the sport itself sells. The IPL success isnt based on character or Dickensian archetypes smacking sixes. Its about the actual game itself.

    Im unsure as to why you feel a county match starting at 2.30pm puts the professional game in harmony with village and club cricket. For one thing, most Saturday league sides start earlier. The Middlesex Cricket League games and Surrey Championship games start at 11.30am this Saturday according to the League websites. The Lancashire League matches start at 1.15pm now and 12.45pm in September. The Yorkshire County League matches start at 12pm. League cricket has improved as a greater professionalism has been adopted in club sides. Youre a man who believes in looking forward so why would you want the professional game to ape the start time of Sunday friendly cricket? Perhaps the county scene should really follow village cricket and have dropouts Sunday morning after a rough night out on the curry and cider, panic-ridden phone calls, sides taking the field with 9 men at 2.30pm whilst two fellows zoom down on a motorcycle from Staines to make up the numbers... oh, and then a side turns up with a couple of ringers from South Africa. Always the way.

    I cant wait to see the effect two new balls in day-night games has on the slow bowlers. Two new balls, bowling with the evening dew great. Medium pace dibbly dobbly heaven. Stupid gimmick and nothing more.

    Our cricket administrators remain averse to change and they give the impression that like Mr Micawber they are hoping something will turn up.

    As the popular internet meme says, O Rly? (insert owl picture here). Central contracts, creation of a new admin structure, originators of 20-over cricket Lord! Arent these administrators staid?!? Not like that fantastic IPL aka not even the first 20-over league in India.

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  • 15. At 10:35am on 06 May 2009, Silk wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 16. At 11:05am on 06 May 2009, sunnypompey wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 17. At 11:06am on 06 May 2009, CJE wrote:

    "..visiting Australians take in the FA Cup final at the end of April"

    you must mean the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final which up until 3-4 years ago always used to be last weekend April/first weekend May. FA Cup Final always been 2nd or 3rd Saturday in May to my knowledge.

    Can see no point in playing the same team we played 2-3 months ago, especially as a third choice 'filler' - the pinnacle for an English cricketer is to win the Ashes (more important than a 20/20 or a 50-over world cup), we should have took the opportunity for a rest at the start of the season, let players get into form and only played Australia this year.

    However ECB need the money no doubt and that's the problem, no thought for skint supporters or worn out players, just cram as much cricket in as possible.

    The sooner we have a Sheffield Shield type competition with 6 regions playing ten 4 or 5 days high quality games a season, get rid of overseas/kolpak rulings, scrap the idea of TWO 20/20 competitions, the sooner we will become a force in world cricket again.

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  • 18. At 12:59pm on 06 May 2009, Graeme Edgar wrote:

    Im with conradedkins - county standards are low due to the fact that, if all 18 teams are playing you've got around 200 players in action, whereas we need to have five or six teams employing a total of around 100 players, no Kolpak players and two overseas players - if we combine the likes of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire into one team i would probably be inclined to go and check them out a few times a season, as i know that i would be watching high quality players who have had to fight for their careers - no dead weights.

    Barely anyone watches the counties in 4 day cricket, so the 4 day game could be built around this format - the one day stuff could be a home for younger players and veteran pro's with star names; so a Northants fan can go to see his side play Lance Klusener on a sunday then drive to the venue of East Midlands Outlaws [or something more exotic] next game on a monday and cheer them on.

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  • 19. At 3:38pm on 06 May 2009, shorty3000 wrote:

    Cricket wants to encourage new audiences. So when I went to buy tickets for this summers twenty20 world cup. I saw that the game I wanted to see was all sold out. When I checked the website, they said the tickets were released in 2008 April a year before the event, I dont think may people would of know this. This was done to reduce the amount of tickets getting on to the black market.

    However I just went on ebay and saw over hundred tickets for sale many going nearly 10 times the original price. Now if the ICC and ECB want to encourage people to come to the game, they should sell the tickets to fans and not dealers who want to make some money. This stop true fans from seeing the cricket.

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  • 20. At 4:22pm on 06 May 2009, AlanSD wrote:

    "even allowing for how far the once mighty Windies have fallen"

    They haven't fallen that far Mihir, they just beat England in a test series.

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  • 21. At 5:31pm on 06 May 2009, OfficialECB wrote:

    We agree with Mihir that 2009 is set to be one of the most exciting ever years of cricket in this country, with the West Indies tour, ICC World Twenty20 and The Ashes, plus the LV County Championship, Friends Provident Trophy, Natwest Pro40 and Twenty20 Cup. The ECB already has plans in place to make the most of all this great on-field action to bring new fans into the game, to encourage participation and build a legacy for the future, in a campaign called The Great Exhibition.

    Just some of the activity planned for the summer includes npower Cricket in the Park, the Twelfth Man Van tour, the ASDA Sporting Chance initiative and a series of promotions offering great deals to encourage fans to get along to all forms of domestic cricket. There will also be a high profile advertising campaign and we are making full use of digital and social media to engage with cricket fans of all ages.

    For full details of everything we are doing to make this season memorable on and off the pitch please visit www.ecb.co.uk/tge

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  • 22. At 09:09am on 07 May 2009, snowy_ajw wrote:

    Mr ECB,
    ASDA sporting chance!? I bet that will only touch 1% of the population if you're lucky. Everybody has a television! Which policy is going to gain most exposure!?
    Also, reduce the ticket prices please. We are in a recession, therefore ticket prices should 'recede'! One does not have to wonder why many non-Ashes events are not sell-outs.
    In addition, I reckon Twenty20 should kick-off the season to get people in early and then the rest of the cricket can be promoted from that initial burst. Until yesterday, I bet many didn't even realise the cricket season had begun.
    And a final note - BRING BACK PRO40!! It's a wonderful spectator event: short enough to bring the non-cricket fans in, yet long enough to be a proper cricket match and give people a good afternoon/evening out. It also very often produces fanatastic matches. It doesn't matter that it's not played at international level - it's similar enough to 50-over cricket and does involve many skills required for Twenty20.
    Regards,
    snowy

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  • 23. At 6:45pm on 07 May 2009, AndyPlowright wrote:

    Mr Bose! Any words on the Dickensian entertainment last night? Poor officials, players showing no respect to officials, vulgarities hurled into television cameras...

    Give me cricket and rugby any day over football.

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  • 24. At 09:55am on 08 May 2009, Phil wrote:

    It is good news that the BBC have managed to secure TV highlights of the ICC World Twenty20. It is very strange though that you 'announced' it so quiety with just a little info to the http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/cricket/7471629.stm webpage but with no explanation or publicity and bizarrely on the same day even then issue a press release about the great summer of cricket on BBC radio that makes no mention of your newly added TV coverage.

    In addition to the late evening highlights on BBC2, will there be support programming during the day with perhaps an Ashes preview too - like you used to have on Cricket Focus in Grandstand and/or perhaps something on the red button? And will the coverage include the England v Scotland warm-up match?

    Kind regards

    Phil

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  • 25. At 10:31am on 08 May 2009, Pendle_Witch wrote:

    So, why has the BBC evening news bulletins not mentioned the cricket?

    Especially on Wednesday's News At Six, which featured what appeared nothing more than a "dance routine", with multiple pieces to camera, featuring Wyre Davies and Lorna Gordon.

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  • 26. At 2:47pm on 08 May 2009, Toinette wrote:

    @tvphil: thanks for the information re.: ICC World T20 - why have the Beeb been so quiet about this? (duuh?)

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