Dear Colin Graves and Tom Harrison,
Despite what you might think, we wish you all the best in your new jobs. As supporters, we want English cricket to flourish, the England teams to be successful, and the English crickosphere to be a happy and harmonious place for everyone – players, supporters, media and management.
Colin, as sole nominee for the next ECB chair, and Tom, as newly appointed ECB chief executive – you are the two people best placed to achieve these aims. There is a lot of work for you to do.
You’ve inherited a dreadful mess. But to be fair, Colin, as you’ve been ECB vice-chairman since March 2013, you must take some responsibility for this.
The grave problems with English cricket are little to do with the immediate form of the senior men’s team. Supporters understand that form fluctuates. The real issues go much deeper. They are twofold, and both are the fault of the ECB.
First, your organisation’s arrogant conduct and selfish attitudes have offended and alienated a huge swathe of English cricket’s fanbase. The result is widespread disaffection and loss of appetite for the England team. We find it very hard to care about a side run by people who clearly care so little about us. Some long-standing supporters have gone as far as actively wanting England to lose – an unprecedented phenomenon.
Second, the ECB’s commercial policies – which appear to reflect an elitist ethos – have systemically narrowed the demographic of English cricket, by pricing lower-income families out of television access or spectator attendance. The simple consequence is fewer people watching or playing the game, a trend which will only increase as time passes.
Tom – Colin has commissioned you to research and develop a strategy for the future of English cricket. We want to help you get it right. So here are our recommendations for what needs to be done.
1. Apologise and explain
You will never heal the schism in our game until you admit the ECB got it wrong. You need to publicly concede that the organisation has done three things.
(a) taken supporters for granted and treated us with disdain and disregard.
(b) not been honest with supporters about true states of affairs.
(c) not recognised supporters’ integral role, both as customers and stakeholders in English cricket.
In the last few days, Colin, you’ve said some promising things on this front.
I want to leave a legacy for English cricket in that we have improved it, made it more accessible, and more user-friendly, giving the customer better value so they look forward to coming to watch or play cricket
By October or November I want them to come up with a strategy of how we can improve English cricket from a playing point of view, from a spectators’ point of view, a broadcasters’ point of view and sit down and talk to everybody.
We have got to do something and not just do it the old fashioned way of looking at what the ECB wants. Cricket still has a place in the hearts of the public but we have to work hard so everybody likes to watch it and play it.
But in practical terms, how are you going to woo back the public? If you’re serious in your intentions, your only starting point is to resolve the “outside cricket” slur of 9th February 2014.
You put your name to that statement, Colin, and if you can’t see the damage it’s caused, you’re in the wrong job.
The good news is you can make amends. Tell us what the ECB actually meant by that remark, and then apologise unreservedly. I’m sorry, but you have no choice. It’s the only way we can move on.
2. Order a full investigation into the dismissal of Kevin Pietersen and its subsequent handling
The Pietersen affair will never go away until you do this. The wound is still septic, but you have the antibiotics.
We’re still angry because the ECB have never come clean. On the few occasions Paul Downton’s said anything, it’s been with great reluctance and even then he’s come up with nothing better than quarter-baked semi-excuses which were quickly proved invalid. The ECB either thought we were stupid enough to believe this rubbish, or didn’t care what we thought in the first place.
Even more offensive was how the ECB hid from the public behind a confidentiality agreement but simultaneously drip-fed malicious gossip to favoured journalists.
Colin – could you look me in the eye and say there was no cover-up? We know the ECB lied to us. Why should we buy tickets from liars or support their cricket teams?
To lay this fiasco to rest, there must be full disclosure.
You need to establish a precise timeline of events from the beginning of the 2013 Melbourne Ashes test to the decision to fire Pietersen, including Downton’s specific rationale, the input from Andy Flower, all written documentation about the process, and the decision to institute a gagging clause.
Then you have to investigate the many discrepancies between ECB statements (including Downton’s interviews) and the other evidence in the public domain, including testimony from players and coaches, such as Ashley Giles’s comments on 15th January 2014.
Finally you need to examine the ECB’s briefing culture (of which more below). Who leaked the ‘due diligence’ dossier? And how did so many ‘dressing room’ stories about Pietersen emerge, despite the ECB’s assertion that “what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team”. Who disclosed false stories about Pietersen – 100th cap presents, traducement of James Taylor and Michael Carberry – and what corrective action was taken?
When all this is done, you need to publish every word, in the public domain, and then hold a press conference at which you, Giles Clarke and Paul Downton will take questions.
Sounds like a giant pain in the arse? It depends how much you want to get supporters back on board. The effort involved is no greater than anything you’d do for a sponsor or the BCCI. And the rewards will be ample.
3. Get test cricket back on free-to-air television.
I know you want this too, Colin, so I won’t rehearse the arguments, save to say this. What’s the point earning money from Sky if only a handful of people are watching the cricket?
The question is, how much do you want it? Colin, you told the Telegraph:
Everybody is right and it would be nice to have some cricket on terrestrial television but the problem we have got is terrestrial television does not want cricket, it certainly does not want Test cricket. I would love to get cricket on terrestrial television in one format or another but at the same time I want to work with Sky. They have been fantastic for cricket. We have to get best of all worlds but if you have terrestrial broadcasters that don’t want cricket then what can you do?
If terrestrial television really doesn’t want cricket, then why are Sky prepared to pay so much for the rights? It doesn’t add up. Are they bidding against themselves? Are you being totally honest? And even if you are, then how much effort have you made to sell the game to the BBC or Channel 4? And even if neither channel wants seven tests a year of ball-by-ball coverage, what about spreading coverage across networks in a split deal? Or set up your own ECB channel on Freeview, whereby you could broadcast the coverage yourself and keep the entire revenue from adverts and sponsorship.
It would help if the ECB dropped their opposition to the ‘listing’ of the Ashes for FTA. Far from striving to get cricket back on free TV, your organisation has lobbied government furiously to prevent it.
My guess is the ECB are wary of pushing the FTA issue for fear of upsetting Sky. If so, that’s an embarrassment. Could you imagine the Premier League or RFU being cowed into silence and inaction?
This is the single most important issue facing English cricket. And when you leave office, the one on which you will be judged.
4. Democratise and increase participation
Colin, you’ve already told Cricinfo:
I want to bring life into the game. I am a cricket nut and I don’t want to see the sport wither. I want to make it vibrant. We have a fantastic opportunity to reclaim cricket as the national summer sport. I want to be judged on many things and one of them is whether we can grow the participation figures
We have to get cricket back in schools. We have to get local clubs going into schools and increasing participation. The days when governments or schools built cricket facilities are gone forever. So we have to provide the facilities for schools to use. If that means using cricket clubs during the week when they’re not needed, then let’s do it.
I think we’re already on the same page on this one. We welcome what you say and can only endorse it. But here are a few suggestions.
The ECB currently outsource youth outreach work to Chance To Shine, and grant them only £1.5 million a year. As children’s participation is so important to you, why not do what the ECB did with women’s cricket? In other words, bring it under the ECB umbrella, put a director-level ECB executive in charge of it, and substantially increase the budget?
What about clubs? Giles Clarke has long said the Sky money helps fund the grass-roots but been very vague about how, or how much. The suspicion is the funds provided are fairly small and directed mainly to elite clubs who are already within the ECB framework. If so, there is no engagement with recreational players outside the system – including Asian leagues and village teams. You need to put that right, not only by increasing the grants budget but proactively making it available to independent community clubs of all descriptions.
The biggest challenge facing non-league recreational cricket is facilities. Try hiring a ground or nets in any major urban area. To address this, you should use the ECB’s clout and resources to create a national database for venue hire. You could also provide funds and political pressure to convert fields, sports pitches and brownfield sites to cricket use. At the end of the day, people can only play cricket if they have a ground to play on.
5. Make tickets cheaper
2015 Ashes tickets start at around £60. The majority are priced between £75 and £90, and thousands of Lord’s tickets cost more than £100. These prices are simply far too expensive for people on modest incomes, especially families. The swathes of empty seats at test matches last year tell their own story. While Ashes series may still sell out, at most grounds, the attendees will only be the wealthy. The result is a progressive narrowing of cricket’s demographic. It’s become a sport only for the rich.
You must do everything in your power to reduce ticket prices for international fixtures. You should endeavour to persuade the counties and MCC of their moral responsibility to the wider interests of the game. And you should radically overhaul the Major Match Awards system, and charge counties less to stage tests, ODIs and T20s. The ECB demands hefty sums to host these matches, sums which are directly passed on to spectators.
At present, test tickets are occasionally distributed free to local schools, on quiet days. This should be done more extensively and more often. Tens of thousands of seats for county fixtures could also be given away free to under-eighteens.
6. Give supporters a say
The ECB Board currently includes representation for women’s and recreational cricket, the MCC, the minor counties, and the first-class counties. There is no representation whatsoever for English cricket’s largest and most important stakeholder – the members of the public who follow the game.
We propose the addition to the Board of two supporters’ representatives, elected by an independent body, who will have full voting rights.
Meanwhile, Tom – you have been “charged with the responsibility to develop a strategy for the future of the game. This will be presented to the Board in late 2015, following a wide consultation process across the game”. As part of this consultation, you must speak to supporters, spectators, and followers.
7. No more briefings or leaks.
In future, if the ECB has something to say, you need to say it in public, to our faces. The practice of slyly briefing journalists off-the-record – to influence the agenda through unattributed comments or innuendo – must cease forthwith. If reporters are entitled to hear something, then so is everyone else. To leak is to patronise and insult your public.
And so those are our set of seven recommendations. We sincerely hope you take them on board, and understand where we’re coming from. We also invite you to read the comments from our readers below.
We wish you the very best of luck.
Please add your comments and further thoughts below. We will send this letter, and a link to the post, to the ECB later this week. Many thanks.
A very well written piece. I have one question to ask you Maxie. Do you want England to lose?
Jenny, I don’t think anyone truly wants them to lose. This is borne out of frustration by mainly, events over the past year. English cricket will self destruct by themselves if there are no changes. Viewing figures will continue to decrease and where will it end up when Sky pulls the plug when it is no longer economically viable. You can be sure Sky has get out clauses in their contracts. Murdoch might be a charlatan but he is certainly no fool when it comes to money and what sells.
Thanks for this Vanessa but I do think there are people who would like to see England lose because they have issues with the people in charge. It also confirms the point that it’s a poorly run show with manky team selection and a no good captain or whatever. Perhaps I’m being unfair. I stand to be corrected if that is the case.
Many thanks, Jenny.
To answer your question – I find it extremely difficult to muster much enthusiasm for a side led by Downton, Moores and Cook. What I’m advocating is a clearing of the decks so we can heal the schism.
Thanks for your response Maxie.
How can it help English cricket to field losing sides because management is unpopular? It will be the players that bite the dust, not the management.
I have empathy for the young men who have been selected to play for their country, are hoping to succeed and forge careers for themselves. They are not in a position to choose their leaders. They suffer from mismanagement as much as anybody else. They are helpless in their situation. They could do with support.
I realise that the success of a winning team will reflect upwards to management but it will also reflect widely on the general public and generate more interest which is what we want.
I understand that you would like to have answers and see accountability so that wounds and division can be healed. You put your case very well and I support you in your wish to bring about change, but I am not sure that stoking the fire and antagonising the ECB will bring about the closure that you are hoping to achieve.
Go well Maxie. You and James have a great blog and of course, not forgetting Tregaskis.
“I have empathy for the young men who have been selected to play for their country, are hoping to succeed and forge careers for themselves. They are not in a position to choose their leaders. They suffer from mismanagement as much as anybody else. They are helpless in their situation. They could do with support.
“I realise that the success of a winning team will reflect upwards to management but it will also reflect widely on the general public and generate more interest which is what we want”.
You make very good points. None of what’s happened is the fault of the likes of Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Jos Buttler, and who would want their careers to be collaterally damaged?
I don’t want this civil war to continue forever. I advocate resolution.
Guess what % of the county age group I coach went to state school?
0%. Not one. I’m told there are only a handful of state school kids in the entire county age group system. 10 years ago, the number was closer to 50%.
That’s the true legacy of the Giles Clarke era. That’s what they will write in his obituary – the man who destroyed cricket.
I think I’m right in saying that since Paul Collingwood’s debut, only two batsmen from state-school backgrounds have been picked by England – Ravi Bopara and Moeen Ali.
It’s not the ECB’s fault that few state schools find much time or resources for cricket. Nor can they be blamed for the popularity of football. But Giles Clarke didn’t seem to give a stuff. He was happy to shut cricket away from middle and lower income families, quite content to make cricket an increasingly elitist sport.
Graves’s ideas on state schools are very much to be welcomed. I hope he can deliver on this front.
Maxie, if that’s true then let’s say that it does take a hell of a lot to make me surprised and disgusted but…words absolutely fail me!!!
(From a Product of Pembroke Comprehensive School, Pembroke, Pembrokeshire 1981-1988 and the Polytechnic of Wales – 1988-1992)
I don’t think it’s a selection bias; it’s just that much harder for state school children to (a) get the right kind of nurturing, (b) get noticed and (c) rise up through the system.
It’s a great shame that Ravi B couldn’t establish himself as a test player. He was virtually unique in his profile – not only a state school boy but from an unprivileged neighbourhood of urban London (East Ham).
I don’t think it is too, Maxie, I’m sorry if I implied it as such – it’s just that it seems to me that if you can play and they (ie. the powers that be), see that you have come from the “right” background and education, then the eyes nod approvingly and hey presto – fame and fortune awaits.
Never realised what background Ravi came from – that’s a fantastic achievement of his to have done what he has so far – can’t help thinking that if his name was Alistair Cook, maybe he would have been persevered a bit longer until his talents came to fruition!
I have taught in both private and state schools and I’m afraid it is obvious to me as to why a high % of cricketers come from private schools. They are given ample opportunites ( twice a week for 2 hours in the school I worked at) whilst at some state schools they won’t play cricket at all. A lot of state schools don;t even have a blade of grass as well. Clearly in Yorkshire and Durham they produce a number of top cricketers but sadly until a high % of children are given the opportunity to play cricket then this will be the case.
I spend a lot of my time going round state schools trying to get kids interested in cricket, but without cricket on free-to-air tv, its like flogging a dead horse.
How can cricket compete when their tv’s are full with football, rugby, tennis, golf, darts, snooker, you name it, even american football, but not a single second of cricket?
I think you are absolutely right but if terrestrials continue to not want it there is nothing anybody can do. I’m sure attempts will be made, we can only hope.
I think this idea that none of the terrestrial channels would be interested in the huge increase in viewer numbers and advertising revenue that broadcasting regular cricket matches would entail is one of the most ridiculous myths doing the rounds.
It’s because of scheduling. Obviously as far as test matches are concerned no one ever knows what day they will finish let alone the time. Limited overs cricket will be easier but even then finishing time is uncertain. I understand that is why they don’t want it.
I can’t believe there’s no way of at least getting the Ashes on FTA. As I said above, it doesn’t help that the ECB lobby so hard to keep test cricket off the ‘listed’ events.
Channel 5 took over from Channel 4 with a 30 minutes highlights package. I can’t believe that if offered the chance to extend that it would be refused.
To children whose families can’t afford Sky, cricket is just a theoretical notion.
Maxie, I have a funny feeling that this letter, admirable in everything that it says, will be treated with the same contempt that Waitrose showed to your efforts last year.
Thanks – we shall see!
Excellent letter, case extremely well stated, no gainsaying the rationale or the selfless purpose it intends to address.
Very well written, lucid, unexceptional questions with the only agenda being the betterment of English cricket both for the administrators and the fan.
Good luck with that!
An excellent letter, sincerely meant and well expressed. If the two gentlemen in question are taking their new jobs seriously and want to be respected for doing so, they’ll read it carefully and think about its contents.
I hope, at the very least, they will understand that critical supporters are not necessarily ‘keyboard warriors’, ‘numpties’, tinfoil hat wearers or perpetual malcontents. Most of us are sensible people who love cricket.
Thanks Ian and Zephirine. As you say, I hope we can give the (wholly true) impression that all we want is the best for English cricket. From this blog’s point of view I very much want to give Graves a clean sheet of paper and keep an open mind.
[…] it as the failure of due process and fair treatment, and a gross insult towards the paying public. The Full Toss are writing to the heads of ECB again, but they won’t pay it any heed.. They’ve had a year, and they haven’t given a […]
Maxie, a great letter, all points you make are perfectly valid. I too suspect it will fall on deaf ears. Graves is a businessman first and foremost. He will not act on any of the points you stated, and it will be business as usual for the ECB. Their sponsors won’t allow them to answer any of the questions and Sky certainly won’t. As long as the ECB have the same staff, including the sneaky back room lot are still there it won’t change as that would put a good many of them in jeopardy. We all know the type, there only because of who they know rather than any ability to do the job.
I really admire your fighting spirit and optimism though and I sincerely hope I am wrong in expecting no change.
Vanessa, you are succinctly and tragically spot on.
Thank you Ian, a gentleman as usual.
You clearly don’t know how to get your ideas over and achieve what you want.
Do you really believe that they are going to apologise for things they have attached their names to and actions that have happened in the past? Corner a rat and it comes out fighting. The first sections are just vindictive and don’t state your mandate for representing supporters and their beliefs.
We need to go forward and I mostly agree with your ideas and plans but you aren’t going to sell them as those in power will have to justify what they have done which means they can’t address your ideas from their ‘corner’
utter rubbish. Why move on?? Because the ECB say so?? If we all just bend over and take it then society is in serious trouble.
They’ve made so many errors it’s unbelievable that all the management and staff associated are still in a job. They’ve single handedly overseen the sports decline.. I don’t really care what the England side do tbh, they represent such a small section of the cricket society.. all those thousands who turn out sat and sun are the guys who need listening to. Not mr Corporate, Mr Rich or the ECB.
This is an outstanding piece Maxie. It shows both your love of English cricket and your determination to get the ECB to change its ways and start doing what is ethical and beneficial. Let us hope that Colin Graves and Tom Harrison are receptive to your excellent suggestions.
I know full well that Waitrose did not reply to your letter and that the ECB may well not reply either. But that is a minor concern. It is important to do what you believe in, and what you believe in Maxie is right according to so many cricket lovers. So very well done and more power to you. :-)
Many thanks, Zero.
Thanks for your comments but with respect I disagree.
What is vindictive about beleaguered, voiceless and impotent supporters asking the ECB – with all their power, money and clout – for an apology? The ECB are not the injured party in this affair, and what’s gone wrong is entirely their fault.
Everyone muddled along OK until the ECB, of their own volition, decided to drive a stake through the heart of English cricket. There can be no resolution until they offer an olive branch or at least actively recognise the gravity of their misconduct.
It sounds a little as if you are arguing this: the only way to get progress is to give in to the ECB and keep them sweet. That strikes me as an utterly unsavoury and unpalatable approach.
The ECB hierarchy are politicians, first and foremost. If you wanted a political party to revise their platforms, would you say you had to be nice to them to get them to do that?
The main question here is whether the ECB are owners, and if so of what.
of course, you could produce a online copy of the letter and then everyone starts emailing/posting a copy to the ECB.. bombard them..I reckon I know more than 100 people who would happily show the ECB how unhappy they are over them, KP handling and how they don’t appear accountable at all.
You can use the link to this post – it is in itself an online copy.
Have you considered starting an internet petition via these helpful sites?
It could bring like-minded people together and make the ECB listen.
Just a thought!
We’ve discussed this idea before. One problem with a petition is that it needs to have a very specific, single, vivid object. The problems with English cricket are too complex to be reduced into a few sentences and one goal. Something like ‘sack Paul Downton’ would seem ignoble enough to lose sympathy.
The other problem is that e-petitions are ten a penny nowdays, so to make a splash, you’d need a ridiculous number of signatories – probably millions.
I see what you mean Maxie. Let us keep trying.
Did anyone see the tattoo KP had done this week? A map of the world with a star over all the places he had scored a test century. It was published on cricketau I think. It caused much consternation on one of the forums I’m on – a further sign of his arrogance by all accounts. Any thoughts?
You can’t be serious. What does it matter? He can have as many tattoos as he likes of whatever he likes. Nowt to do with anyone other than KP.
Jenny I have similar thoughts. I started a cricket forum a couple of years ago. Not a huge membership, but the majority of them dislike KP’s attitude. I was just trying to get a different opinion is all. Dont agree with it.
“the majority of them dislike KP’s attitude.” But how do they know what his attitude is?
They know what’s reported in the press, including proven fictions such as ‘he didn’t go to the Christmas meal with the team’.
They might have seen a rather gauche man being interviewed and asked questions about himself, which he answered.
The constantly reiterated “KP is a horrible person” story is as much a cynically constructed media narrative as the constantly reiterated “Alastair Cook is a wonderful person” story. It’s pantomime, heroes and villains. Clickbait.
Perhaps some of your contributors don’t realise how much they’ve been fed this narrative.
I agree the tattoo is nobody’s business but Pietersen’s, – but the ECB is trying so hard to airbrush him out of English cricket history, I’m not surprised he felt the need to have something to reassure himself of his achievements.
“the majority of them dislike KP’s attitude”
As a matter of interest, have they ever discussed Alastair Cook and his ODI place, and what that might say about *his* attitude and character? Just to re-iterate: specifically the ODI slot, not Tests.
As far as I can see, there was no statistical case for him being an automatic pick after the ODI series in Australia last winter. There was no case on form, by common sense or (most importantly) given the need to prepare for the World Cup after – at the latest – the Sri Lanka series last summer.
Even some of his most ardent backers did not want to see him compromise his excruciatingly regained and still fragile Test form by continuing in ODIs against India last August/September.
Yet not only was he picked against India, and then for the winter series in Sri Lanka, he was actually (directly or indirectly) responsible for dropping or demoting all of the following players with superior recent records, just to ensure he kept his place:
– Michael Lumb
– Ian Bell
– Moeen Ali
– James Taylor
– Ravi Bopara
and also for holding back a man with a poor ODI record, but a T20 international century in 2014, i.e. Alex Hales.
He would not step down, and we even had to read articles arguing that England captains never step down, thus airbrushing out the well-documented actions of our three finest captains of the last fifteen years. He would not even miss an ODI (voluntarily) in order to allow necessary experimentation at the top of the order.
I would call this selfish and ultimately destructive behaviour. England are at least nine months, and possibly a year or more, behind where they should be in advance of this World Cup. Yet, because Cook’s attitude has never been portrayed in such a light, I am willing to bet that your forum members would disagree.
He gets picked, he plays; if doesn’t get picked, he doesn’t play. The decision as to whether he plays or not is, therefore, the responsibility of those that pick him.
His body, he can do what he wants, as long as it is legal.
Mark Waugh used to write the centuries he’d scored on the inside of his thigh pad. So what? I can’t believe people are up in arms about this. The fact he’s got an ego is hardly breaking news. Isn’t this what made him such a good batsman?
In a way it is what he was paid for.
[…] A letter to Colin Graves and Tom Harrison […]
Give me a shout when you get a reply. I’ll not hold me breath..
Some excellent points.
Ready to step up if ever asked