On the eve of the general election, The Full Toss today sets out a manifesto for English cricket followers. Regardless of tomorrow’s result – and politicians care little for sport – here are five reforms which, we argue, are urgently needed to protect and strengthen our game. But isn’t it rather a shame we don’t get to vote for the ECB?
1. England home test matches on free-to-air TV The non-negotiable, the sine qua non. The government must re-list all England home test series, and put serious pressure on the BBC to not only host the coverage but pay adequately for it. If the relevant authorities really wanted to achieve this, they could. At the moment they’re just making excuses.
2. ECB to invest in genuine grass-roots cricket Most ECB revenue goes straight back to the counties, who spend it on expensive Kolpaks and obscure overseas players. Supposed ‘grass roots’ investment is actually channeled to already wealthy and prestigious league clubs. The village game deserves its fair share. We call for a £10million upgrade of municipal and communal village grounds, and ten thousand £500 club grants for equipment and kit.
3. Abolish four counties What interest is served by the existence of 18 counties? They drain resources and dilute competitiveness. And because there are simply too few good players to go round, the clubs fill the gaps with imports. Reducing the number of first-class counties would raise standards, cut waste, and significantly lessen the amount of superfluous cricket played every season. Derbyshire members might not like it. Tough.
4. Reduce ticket prices How on earth can they justify £80 for a test match ticket? Prices are so high because the ECB charge counties around £3million to host a test match: the cost is passed squarely on to the punter. Where all the money goes is anyone’s guess, although images spring to mind of Giles Clarke merrily tossing rolls of £50 notes into the fire.
The ECB will argue that major test matches sell out – so the prices must be affordable. They are – to the well-off, and there are enough of those to fill the grounds. But what about people on lower incomes, especially parents who’d love to take their children to the cricket? The demographic base of cricket is narrowing, but the ECB don’t realise (or care) because revenue is steady – and this is deeply wrong. Cricket is everyone’s game.
We call for a £35 cap on test match ticket prices; £15 for under 16s. 500 free tickets for each day’s play should be distributed to schoolchildren.
5. ECB to recognise the role of supporters The ECB care what the MCC says. They are deeply influenced by what the broadsheet cricket correspondents say. And they care about the feelings of the leading players. But they don’t really give a jot for us – the spectators, followers, fans, and village players. Our role, in their eyes, is to dutifully buy match tickets, merchandise and Sky Sports subscriptions – and to do as we’re told. Enough. We pay for English cricket. We give it meaning and significance. We play the game, on parks and village greens. Without us, cricket is nothing.