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ECB Testing Fans’ Loyalty Again

Long term readers of TFT will know that it used to have two editors rather than one. There was me, and then there was Maxie. A couple of years ago Maxie stepped down because he didn’t have time to contribute anymore. He was also (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying) completely disillusioned with English cricket and was finding it almost impossible to support the team.

I haven’t quite reached Maxie’s levels of despair but recent events have started to make me question my loyalty to English cricket too. After all, as Maxie used to remind me, the team is employed by and represents the board. Therefore any success they have on the field makes the board look good. I’m not saying I’m about to do a runner and start supporting Australia quite yet – I’ve got too much affection for our players – but the ECB don’t half make it hard sometimes.

The introduction of Harrisons Hare-brained Have A Hit has really depressed me. It’s completely unnecessary vanity project that’s an existential threat to the county game we know and love. The way the ECB apparently forced the tournament through, with reports of counties essentially being coerced, made the blood boil.

The ECB’s determination to improve England’s white-ball fortunes, even when this damaged the test team, also gets under my skin. Nobody wants England to fail at World Cups, and I’m obviously glad out ODI team is playing much better cricket, but yet another Ashes thrashing down under suggests they took their eye off the ball as far as test cricket goes. In fact they completely botched the four year cycle since our last trip down under. And it’s no compensation whatsoever that we won a few subsequent ODIs.

However, disillusioned as I am with all the above, three recent developments have really hurt. They make me want to walk away from cricket altogether – which is saying something for a person who has devoted almost ten years of his life building up a cricket blog. Although the news that TMS have lost the rights to broadcast England’s winter tours to TalkSport is very sad, the following three developments are far worse, and they’re all the result of ECB decisions I simply cannot accept.

The first issue was the chilling news that Colin Graves is suing George Dobell for defamation. I found this development quite sinister. Dobell is a first class journalist, has done sterling work (as far as I’m concerned) trying to unravel the inner-workings of the ECB, and in many ways he’s one of us: he cares deeply about the game and isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions. I find the fact he’s being sued both remarkable and offensive. There are no other words for it.

The second development was reported by The Times yesterday. It left me staggered – although on reflection perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m talking, of course, about the news that Ed Smith, perhaps my least favourite cricket journalist and a man who has generally supported all the controversial things the ECB have done, was to be named England’s new national selector. So now we have someone I couldn’t be more philosophically opposed to picking the team. He is, after all, the man who tried to challenge the premise of Death Of A Gentleman on TMS and in the process ended up somewhat defending the Big Three stitch up at the ICC. Talk about establishment-friendly.

Now I’m sure that Smith makes a good impression at interviews. He’s intelligent, well educated, and had a long career as a county pro who represented England one summer. However, this appointment looks bad on so many levels. For starters Smith is the archetypal public school boy and he used to play with Andrew Strauss at Middlesex. Therefore this move will just reinforce perceptions that the ECB is an old fashioned organisation with a ‘jobs for the boys’ and ‘right sort of family’ philosophy.

Of course, it should escape nobody’s attention that whilst George Dobell, a prominent critic of the ECB, gets sued for writing unflattering articles about the authorities, Ed Smith, a prominent cheerleader of the ECB, gets made national selector. The suits do realise how awful this looks, right? It’s interesting to note that the other reported candidates, Derek Pringle and Mike Selvey, are also journalists who tend to leap to the administrators’ defence. If this is a coincidence then it’s a pretty remarkable one.

The final development that has left me questioning whether it’s best to just pack it all in, are recent reports speculating how Strauss and the ECB are going shoehorn this shitty, sorry city, T20 into the domestic calendar. Many of us feared whatever they did would damage the test side and now it looks like we were right.

According to this report in Cricinfo, the ECB are seriously toying with the idea of demolishing two divisions, abandoning promotion and relegation, and splitting the championship into two conferences instead. The mind boggles at how stupid this idea is. What’s more, there’s a good chance that first class cricket will be played at the same time as the new T20, which means the championship will get absolutely no coverage and many of the best players won’t even be involved. It’s almost as if we’re deliberately trying to sabotage our red ball prospects.

Everyone who has followed county cricket for years knows that the introduction of two divisions dramatically helped the England test team. It made the championship more intense, games counted for more, teams usually had something to play for until the end of the season, and there were less meaningless fixtures with nothing riding on them.

What’s more, the creation of a top division narrowed the gap between county cricket and test cricket because the best teams were playing against each other more regularly. The system wasn’t perfect, and England players occasionally emerged from division two, but it’s generally agreed that the standard of division one cricket back in the early noughties was excellent. It was perhaps the premier domestic first class competition in the world for a short time. And the England test team benefitted big time.

Although some will argue that two divisions increased the gap between the haves and have-nots (and there’s certainly truth in this) it’s worth stressing that the new conferences are not designed to help the poorer clubs. In fact, the Cricinfo article reports that smaller counties might actually begin to priorities white ball cricket regardless of the reforms. So what’s the point in the bigger clubs playing them?

Unfortunately the arguments being used in favour of two conferences are the same hackneyed bollocks we hear in other sports (particularly rugby union) all the time. The argument goes that reducing the threat of relegation will allow clubs to invest in young English players without fear, and reduce the need for Kolpak signings.

These argument have more holes that a piece of Swiss cheese that’s been attacked by a power-drill. For starters, the counties already receive incentives for playing young English players, and this hasn’t stopped counties from signing Kolpak players anyway. What’s more, it’s actually the presence of Kolpak players that keeps the standard of championship cricket (relatively) high.

The truth is that there simply aren’t enough good English players to populate eighteen first-class teams. And the good players that do come through the ranks benefit enormously from facing the likes of Kyle Abbott and Morne Morkel. Although too many Kolpaks can be a bad thing, eradicating them would be a disaster.

Sadly I believe the eradication of two divisions will be the final nail in the championship’s coffin. It will take us back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when first class domestic games lacked intensity, there was an even bigger jump between county and international cricket, and the England test team was crap as a result. Even worse it will be like the late 1980s and early 1990s all over again but with the added problem of a City T20 competition overshadowing everything (and robbing the tournament of its best players to boot).

I’m afraid that domestic first class cricket as we know it is dying my friends – and no effort is being made to save it. I fear it won’t be long before England’s test team will be on life support too, and it’s all because the ECB falsely assume that T20 is the answer to everything, and everything else has to fit in around it.

These are really sad times. And I really don’t know what to say. But you can guarantee one thing though. Journalists won’t be saying it too loudly in case Colin Graves’ lawyers are listening.

James Morgan

2018-04-19T10:28:23+00:00 April 18th, 2018|Talking Points|37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Metatone April 18, 2018 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    An interesting question (at least to me) : What kind of background would we want a selector to have? Have to say I don’t think it’s actually “journalist.” Yes, we can all name journos who we feel might make a good fist of the selector job. But I think if you want a selector to have the skills for the role, you’d be looking for some kind of coaching background. A background where choosing players was an actual measured part of the job (rather than just throwing out a couple of names before deadline).

    Of course, the downside is then the ECB would doubtless pick Flower. Yet the key concern about Smith being “one of the boys” has to be that Flower continues to exert oversized influence on judgements about young players in particular…

  2. SimonH April 18, 2018 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Who knew that in between commentating on Test cricket, watching lots of Roger Federer, going to Twickenham, going to the Emirates, following baseball, running a university course, reading philosophers you’ve never heard of, speaking at management consultancy courses, following the political scene, listening to Bob Dylan and doing sundry other things, Ed Smith was watching loads of County Cricket?

    Remarkable.

  3. Spinflight April 18, 2018 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Yes beyond sinister..

    The problem here is that the ecb really is a posh boys club. The only influence the average Joe can have is refusing to buy sky or international tickets.

    If anyone can think of a way to hold them to account then I’m all ears.

  4. Jomesy April 18, 2018 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    @spinflight – I may be wrong but I think Doebell was involved in a fan-backed effort to hold the ECB more accountable

    • James Morgan April 18, 2018 at 5:37 pm - Reply

      Yes it was cricketsupporters.com I think.

  5. Kevin April 18, 2018 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    Personally I wish there were more journalists like George Dobell, who actually seen in touch with reality.
    I wouldn’t want the ‘yes men’, Strauss & Smith types anywhere near the ECB.
    I’d have 2 divisions in the championship, each with 9 teams, so a 16 match season, 2 up, 2 down.
    Play the 1st class games throughout the season, with a revamped domestic 2 divisions T20 running over the season.
    The franchise T20 should be played in December, in outer Mongolia.
    I’ve not met a fellow county member that’s the slightest bit interested in the new competition, or has any faith in the ECB.

    • WHS April 19, 2018 at 12:24 pm - Reply

      This is hardly fair criticism. No-one is a greater fan of red ball cricket than me, but I have never seen more than 1,000 members on a county ground for a Championship match in the years I have watched it. On the occasion I let friends take me to a T20 at Lord’s, in a dead group-match game, there were 20,000 paying fans on the ground.

      Cricket can’t be permanently beholden to a small group who turn up from time to time, who are in favour of a form of the game which when played at Lord’s or the Oval is played in a ground 95% empty, when there may be thousands of fans “outside cricket” who could be attracted to a new form but who do not make their voices heard in the debate, because they are just not that engaged with the politics of the thing.

  6. Michael Hall April 18, 2018 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    I too have been depressed by not only the news but the way so much of the County Championship is being played outside the main summer months. It is no fun watching the Championship on a cold day and I will just not go.

    I accept that T20 is the revenue driver. I am even prepared to accept the new tournament if short, sharp and gets the best players. Please can we have the Championship in May, June, August and September. July for T20 and closing stages of 50 over tournament which starts in April.

    Finally Mike Selvey is Administrator friendly? Not my experience of reading him or following it on Twitter. You are being unfair on him.

    • James Morgan April 18, 2018 at 6:54 pm - Reply

      Hi Michael. To be honest I stopped reading Mike Selvey a while ago. But he was very pro-ECB during the Pietersen debacle. Apologies if I’ve missed some of his more critical work.

    • Cricketcricketcricket April 18, 2018 at 8:39 pm - Reply

      He is very very pro ECB. Literally can’t take anything he writes seriously. He might as well change his name to mike Strauss

  7. oreston April 18, 2018 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    The ECB is an echo chamber, so sadly it’s entirely predictable that the National Selector role has gone to someone who’s primary qualification seems to be that he’s one of their biggest cheerleaders. That being the case, the only thing that surprises me is that The Analyst wasn’t also on the shortlist.
    Maybe they picked up on the “anyone but Flower” mood and Ed Smith is the perfect stooge. Sufficiently prominent and divisive (with fans) both to front the selection process and attract the flak when it all goes wrong, thereby enabling the Mood Hoover to continue exerting his Machiavellian influence behind the scenes. In a way you could argue he’s a useful idiot who’s been set up to fail. Still, “Three Tests” Smith has to be better than “One Test” Whitaker, right?

  8. Ian Roake April 18, 2018 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    The last season of my Essex membership I think just not worth it anymore.

    • Kevin April 18, 2018 at 7:15 pm - Reply

      Ian, I will keep my membership, this season & next. Isn’t 2020 the year of franchise & conferences?
      So 2 seasons, then goodbye.

  9. Martin Hadland April 18, 2018 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    As a long term Middx supporter and member I can confirm that Ed Smith was a disastrous choice of captain who presided over an under performing team and a divided dressing room. He also showed little interest in talking to members and supporters He therefore seems ideally qualified to take his place in upper echelons of the ECB alongside Graves and Harrison

    I despair about the sacrificial killing of our national game on the alter of the Graves / Harrison obsession with their city based T20 vanity project . Can you be sued for suggesting that the counties need to find the ccurage to put down a motion of no confidence in Graves at the ECB AGM in early May? If they keep lying down and taking what is done to them then they will be run over and probably fatally injured.

  10. Nat Smith April 18, 2018 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Agree with the sentiments of the article. We are watching the death throws of the county championship. What the ECB don’t seem to realise is that a decent domestic CC is essential for the future of Test cricket where the big money is generated which is all the ECB seem to care about.

  11. Mojo Wellington April 18, 2018 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    And here’s me being pleasantly surprised that Ed Smith is to become chairman of selectors.Commenting on his schooling is a potshot – he’s hardly alone in being a cricketer that had an expensive education. He is articulate, understands the wider world of sport, its psychology etc. and I think would be well-placed to provide a balanced judgement. I doubt he’ll be like Goochie and promote his entire county side into the England XI.

    The fact he only played three Tests means he understands the step up to international cricket and the difficulty in staying there (either through form or selectors’ fancy). I’m more saddened that he will be lost from the TMS line up, leaving more space for a certain recent ex-player and his ‘hilarious’ impressions of other cricketers.

    • James Morgan April 18, 2018 at 10:42 pm - Reply

      Hi Mojo. Thanks for posting. If Ed Smith can pick out good players then he’ll prove to be a good appointment. But that’s not the issue for me. It’s why he’s been chosen. It all seems very cosy indeed, and I find it hard to support organisations that operate in this fashion, particularly as there’s already a large disconnect between ordinary supporters and those ‘inside’ cricket (for want of a better expression). Re: Smith’s schooling, it really doesn’t bother me where he was educated. I went to private school myself so there’s no prejudice here. But what gets me, as I said before, it that it’s all rather insular and typifies everything people dislike the ECB for. Basically it seems that if your face fits, and you keep your head down, you’ll be rewarded. As an organisation it clearly doesn’t like to be challenged. And I don’t think that’s healthy at all.

      • Mojo Wellington April 18, 2018 at 11:11 pm - Reply

        Nice to hear from the guv’nor.

        I am surprised by the lukewarm response to Ed Smith, but do agree with most of what you’ve said (and most often do on other topics). For me, out of all the things going on in cricket at the moment, Ed Smith’s appointment was a relative breath of fresh air, despite his obvious connections. I don’t know him from Adam of course, but am sure he’ll be better than Graveney and Whitaker.

        Re. cricket establishment – I have completed ECB surveys and asked about fan focus groups etc. to get our point of view across, but never received any response. E.g. Lord’s builds a nice new stand for MCC members, but still half the seats at the Nursery End are restricted view, the water fountain is a pathetic dribble etc. Meanwhile, TMS are banging on about how wonderful the food is, forgetting most people don’t sit in hospitality.

  12. Marc Evans April 18, 2018 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    Just a comment here on the demise of TMS. It has been a while since the heyday of Jonners, Blowers, The Alderman, Arlott and Truman. Even Bumble needs someone interesting to feed off. Their replacements have been lesser lights, more concerned with their own opinions rather than being steeped in the game. The charm of letting them into your living room to discuss cricket and life in equal measure has long since passed. They’re still something I would rather have on than the Sky men, bemoaning the state of the modern game and lack of talent of its players, but they are a shadow of the original intention. Many non cricket fans used to listen to TMS, but not the present crew.
    I like talk sport for it’s combative style, but how will 7 hours of Goughie and Harmison fit into the TMS berth. I fear its modern day expose style journalism will make it a mere acolyte of Sky, one dimensionally analysing the performances at the expense of all else, because they don’t have a raconteur’s bone in their collective bodies to provide some relief from the monotony.

  13. Doug M April 18, 2018 at 9:44 pm - Reply

    There has to be a way to get rid of the current ECB surely? Now we get Straussy mate Smith appointed. Talk about a cosy old boys club.

  14. Doug M April 18, 2018 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    By the way don’t give up James. Your doing a grand job. I’m maybe too optimistic but cricket, proper cricket that is, historically seems to find a way of surviving the crap. When hopefully the franchise sinks without a trace it will take a hit because the ECB has thrown so much money at it. But I hope it will recover because of the C championship goes so do I, because they’ll be no Test cricket.

  15. JackieL April 18, 2018 at 11:05 pm - Reply

    When things are under attack it is time to fight – not threaten to give up cricket. Why the threatened resignations? That’s just what the ECB wants. County fans throwing the towel in. Why not write an article for The Cricketer James? Why not a few letters to the cricket press? And those on Twitter or other social media make your protest known. Players will be too compromised to say what they think. But the fans aren’t beholden. The ECB aren’t acting in the interests of cricket? So who are the shady figures in the mix of promoting the franchise T20? They’re speculators. Business men doing deals.

  16. Tom April 19, 2018 at 3:25 am - Reply

    I like your fancy new layout.

  17. David Townsend April 19, 2018 at 7:14 am - Reply

    Agree strongly with your first two points but feel that the conference idea, as proposed by Yorkshire, has its merits. Are you familiar with what’s been suggested? Three conferences of six teams, based on the previous season’s finishing places (1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16 etc) with 10 matches played, home and away. The top two teams from each conference then play off in a min-league, another five games. As do the middle two teams and bottom two. So a total of 15 games, with the make up of the conferences changing each season. I have one or two reservations, but I’d like to see it given a go.

    Also, I disagree that playing championship games at the same time as the new Whack-It is a bad idea. What most people fail to realise about Whack-It is that it’s only going to be one game per evening, therefore championship cricket will still get coverage, as it does during Tests. The benefit of playing, say, three championship rounds in August is that it will give young spinners experience and confidence, bowling on drier pitches with the biggest hitters otherwise engaged.

  18. Comte April 19, 2018 at 7:37 am - Reply

    I’ve followed county cricket for > 65 years. The first CC I can remember seeing featured Frank Tyson starting his run up just inside the boundary rope: Keith Andrew, the keeper was standing just inside the boundary. Watching from square of the wicket I didn’t see the ball.I was a Yorkshire member through the civil war years and am now a lifer at Worcester. During my lifetime my passions have been music and cricket.
    However, like many others. I’ve been getting increasingly disillusioned with the latter as those running the game become more remote from and inconsiderate of the game’s followers.
    Smith – I’ve no problem with the fact that he’s well educated and can string sentences together. I’d rather have someone like that that some blokey bloke who can only talk in cricketing cliches and recite the broadcasters’ mantra. But it seems clear to me that he won’t rock and boats. He’ll fit in like a bug in a rug with Straussy and Harriigraves. As for TMS, it went down the pan years ago.
    I hope that Graves, if he has a shred a sense left in him, will drop his defamation claim against GD. Could supporters of the game launch a claim against Graves and co for attempting to destroy the game and causing undue stress and alarm.?
    It is quite possible that in two years I will simply stop watching the game and look to find solace in my Wisden collection.

  19. jennyah46 April 19, 2018 at 8:28 am - Reply

    An excellent, if depressing post James. You make your points well.

    I have never shared Maxie’s view that any success of the England team reflects positively on the ECB. I see them as two completely separate entities.

    It’s the team who do the long hours of training, it’s the team who are at the coal face and it’s the team who go through the blood sweat and tears.

    When they win games and do well, it is in spite of the hand that is dealt to them by the ECB. I don’t see it as bringing any kudos to that body. I will always support the England team.

    I very much like the new layout but my reply to you is in a pale grey print which is not that easy to see. I don’t know if it’s my phone or part of the design. I beg forgiveness if there are more typos than usual. 🙂

  20. AndyB April 19, 2018 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Forget the rest, the big issue is Smith – a very average county pro who would not know test quality if it dropped on his head from 5000 feet (rather like Whittaker).

    The one thing we need above all in our selectors is independence and the ability to think laterally about the issues facing the England side. It is the lack of this which has led to the appointment and continuing support of Joe Root as England captain – a great bat but with no previous captaincy experience which has repeatedly shown in his decisions, especially his cultivation of the old England clique led by Anderson and Broad. It is not easy to identify the right candidate in place of Smith, but what we require is a Dermot Reeve lookalike, but without Dermot’s baggage. Whatever you think of Dermot, he was a great captain who was always willing to back his own judgement (which in cricket matters tended to be outstanding, strange it was so poor in other matters). The obvious name which springs to my mind (if he wanted it) is Jack Richards, a man so independent that he was forced out of the game at his peak by the drooling small minded Stewart sycophants who ran Surrey. It will never happen – and therein lies the reason for the decline in English cricket.

  21. Comte April 19, 2018 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    I now hear that the Exceedingly Crap Board wants to make the ‘new competition’ a one over affair – 16 x 6 ball overs plus a final over of 10 balls.
    These guys are bloody mental – they need to be destroyed.

    • maggie April 19, 2018 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      I read that the idea is a 100-ball competition, 15 x 6 ball overs and then 10 extras to be taken at the discretion of the fielding side. (I think!) The purpose being to attract even more yoof supporters. I can’t think why people who don’t know much about cricket would find that any more attractive – oh look I would never have gone to watch 20 6-ball overs, but this is much more interesting – what????? It would seem that the marketing or whoever department at the ECB has a mission statement (well, they’re bound to have one, aren’t they?) that says the goal is to piss off as many diehard cricket supporters as they possibly can.

  22. Paull McLeod April 19, 2018 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    I have walked away mate, for many of the reasons you have mentioned. Been watching cricket since 1975/6 & latterly spent 12 years as a cricket trader for various bookmakers but since that role ended there is nothing that attracts me to take much interest in the game. T20, which is largely slogging & match-fixing, is destroying the form of the game I want to watch, with the ECB leading the way in marginalising & undermining the County Championship, with the all too obvious results for the test team. Now I hear of the latest abomination, ie the 100 ball nonsense. Mark me down as one more fan lost.

  23. SimonH April 19, 2018 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    Some interesting content on who might be selected if Smith and Strauss go with the metrics:

    https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/england-cricket-ed-smith-national-selector-ecb-test-odi-t20-cricviz-a8312416.html

    Good news for Jason Roy, Haseeb Hamed and…. James Vince.

    Alternatively, they could just pick the same old same old and pretend the winter never happened.

    • Pete Cresswell April 20, 2018 at 8:16 am - Reply

      Today’s Times did a similar piece with but picking some stats that have Vince & Stoneman in trouble …

      Lies, damn lies & …

  24. SimonH April 20, 2018 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Strauss at the Ed Smith unveiling:

    “Ed stood out as an ideal candidate for the role for a number of reasons. There is real depth to his talent identification knowledge and he’s done a great amount of research into the subject”.

    He uses long words.

    “He has a rich and varied sum of experiences having played professional cricket for 12 years and having written extensively on cricket and other sports. As well as this he has a strong academic interest in high performance and excellent knowledge of the international game”.

    He played 3 Tests, left one (possibly two) county dressing rooms in states of civil war and had a stint with the team that came bottom of the IPL. He’s read ‘Moneyball’ though.

    “Ed will come to this role with fresh ideas and his input will help us implement a structure that we hope can become world-leading, not just in cricket but in sport generally.”

    Couldn’t they just settle for a certain baseline competence before aiming for leading the world?

    How much has seen Joe Clarke bat or Dom Bess bowl?

    • AndyB April 20, 2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Excellent summary. As I said above, I would love to see Jack Richards as Chief Selector, not just for his independence but also because there would be an epidemic of strokes and seizures at the ECB at the very mention of his name. If you can’t get rid of them any other way…….

  25. SimonH April 21, 2018 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    Century for James Hildreth! Will Ed Smith consider him for selection based on:

    1) Metrics.
    2) An old report from Andy Flower that Hildreth doesn’t fancy short stuff.
    3) A marketing analysis of Hildreth’s appeal to 8 year olds

  26. SimonH April 26, 2018 at 8:15 am - Reply

    The draft WC schedule has been submitted for final approval. Although this is technically not an ECB decision, let’s not pretend the host are not the main driving force behind this.

    Afghanistan are denied matches at Lord’s, the Oval, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. Pakistan (to give one contrast) play four matches at those venues.

    What unspeakable Strausses they truly are.

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