Getting Shirty?

I sense this one is going to divide opinion like a John Bercow intervention. But unlike the political machinations at Westminster, The Full Toss is here to discuss matters that really, erm, matter. So let’s debate the big issues of the day; the issues that really define nations and affect lives.

I’m talking, of course, about whether players should have names and numbers on their shirts in test cricket? I can already feel petitions being drawn up, legal challenges being drafted, and protest marches being organised. Personally I’d suggest a referendum on the issue but fear it might be too divisive.

Joking aside I do think this ICC proposal, which they’re introducing for the World Test Championship (which includes this year’s Ashes), does have some significance. It’s not that big a deal – it’s just names and numbers on shirts for Pete’s sake – but it’s still representative of a slightly worrying trend.

What concerns me is that the move is based on two recurring and flawed assumptions: (a) that test cricket as it is isn’t good enough and must change, and (b) that the Americanisation of the sport, for want of a better expression, is the answer. In other words, the authorities think that test cricket should be more like ODIs to survive. Daft, isn’t it.

I’ve heard the specific arguments in favour of adding names and numbers to shirts and I’m not convinced. They claim adding names / numbers makes player identification easier and therefore enhances a player’s brand. If kids and casual cricket watchers can more easily identify players, or so the argument goes, then they’ll be more engaged in the action.

My gut tells me this is either completely wrong or only partially true. And if it’s only partially true then the supposed benefits will be insignificant. Let me explain …

Who are the main protagonists in cricket i.e. the players under the spotlight every ball? It’s obviously the batsman and the bowler. First let’s deal with batsmen.

If you’re at a cricket match, and you don’t know who is on strike, then you simply haven’t been paying attention at all. Their names are announced as they stride to the wicket, and the scoreboard has their name displayed permanently. It’s easy to tell who is at the crease.

Next we come to the bowlers. Once again the tannoy announces his or her name at the beginning of a spell, and yes, the relevant name is on the scoreboard too. And this scoreboard is far easier to see (there are often two of them at grounds) than a number not much more than a foot wide etched onto one side of a player’s body.

What’s more, there are normally just 4 or 5 bowlers in a team. If you can’t keep track of who these guys are, and you can’t tell the difference between Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad, then I politely suggest you should’ve gone to Specsavers. Other optometrists are available of course.

It seems to me, therefore, that the only time names / numbers on the back of shirts will actually help is when identifying fielders. And a fielder might only touch the ball once every fifteen minutes. So who really cares?

Do crowds come to see Virat Kohli or Joe Root field? Of course not. The most famous players in the world i.e. the ones that need to worry about their personal brands are first and foremost batsmen or bowlers. And we’ve already explained why identifying batsmen and bowlers is even easier picking holes in Harrison’s Harebrained Hundred.

Another thing to consider is this. A recent survey by the MCC revealed that 86% of over 10,000 respondents said that test cricket was their favourite form of the game. So why is test cricket taking its lead from white ball cricket?

If test cricket is overwhelmingly the most popular form of the game (and TV audiences back this up) then shouldn’t ODIs be taking their lead from the longest form of the game rather than the other way around? Perhaps they should be taking names and numbers off Eoin Morgan’s red / blue (or whatever colour it is this week) pyjamas rather than adding names and numbers to Jimmy Anderson’s pristine test shirt?

At this point you may wonder why I’m hot under the collar about this subject? Trust me I’m not. At the end of the day this latest ‘innovation’ probably won’t make a rat’s arse of a difference to test cricket. But what does slightly concern me is that it’s another cricketing tradition thrown away. And if you’re going to break with tradition then please break it for a reason that actually adds up.

Although I’ve always been something of a purist, I’m not opposed to modernisation when it serves a purpose. Did I object to them introducing helmets in cricket for example? Hell no. Helmets save lives. This was necessary progress even if it did break with tradition.

And am I opposed to seeing ramp shots and reverse sweeps in cricket? Of course not. These high risk shots add a bit of excitement and intrigue. Sports inevitably evolve over time. I accept that.

However, I’m not convinced that adding names and numbers to shirts in the test arena does any of these things. It’s just change for change’s sake. Is there actually any evidence that adding names and numbers to shirts is going to help kids engage with test cricket? It seems like a bit of a stretch to me. It’s only really helps a person standing 40 metres away to identify specific fielders (and only then if they really squint). And the closest thing to a specialist fielder I can think of is Jonty Rhodes – the South African who last played a test match 18 years ago.

Yes there are certain instances when knowing who the fielder is might add to the entertainment – for example after a run out or a catch. But once again the scoreboard and the tannoy tells everyone who the fielder was anyway.

The only thing the announcer doesn’t do is tell us which individual fielder is casually trotting around to long leg, picking up the ball at a leisurely pace, and casually flinging it back to the keeper as the batsmen complete an easy single. And nobody cares who that guy is anyway. He’s not doing anything that will build his personal brand or help kids engage with the game.

What’s more, part of test cricket’s appeal is its purity and its tradition. It’s a bit like the white clothes rule at Wimbledon. They keep the rule in place because the organisers judge that keeping with tradition, and keeping the tournament unique, does more good than letting players wear funkier outfits that might appeal more to (some) kids. Is test cricket not the perfect comparison? Why would Wimbledon need to learn any lessons from the colourful US Open?

Yes test cricket shouldn’t be immune from modernisation. All sports need it. But it seems to me that the only concrete benefit of adding names / numbers to shirts in test cricket is the opportunity to flog more replica shirts. 

And there is is. Finally. A solid reason for actually introducing the new shirts. We certainly took our time getting to that one!

I’ll let you determine whether raising what will probably be a pretty meagre amount of money is sufficient reason to undermine tradition and make test cricket less special and unique – especially as differentiation is the key to a successful marketing strategy. It sure beats me-too products.

The other problem, of course, is that if you keep making slight changes that undermine something’s character then eventually they all add up to a big change. I won’t go as far as to apply the phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts’ to test cricket at this point. That would seem like an overreaction to fairly innocuous news. However, it’s something to ponder moving forward.

James Morgan


  • Actually the better test ground scoreboards do tell you who fields the ball every time it is hit to a fielder, the problem with many is that it is only on there fleetingly so unless one is aware of it one is likely to miss it. BTW are the numbers going to be the individual’s cap number or some arbitrary squad number?

    This is all about branding and squeezing more money out of the public. Shirts with numbers and names will be sold in outlets once it is solidly accepted. How many years before test cricket will be played in coloured clothing I wonder? It all detracts from studying the art of the game and God forbid anyone wishes to study anything in this modern world!

  • While I accept the batsman and bowlers are announced, I’ve been at lots of grounds where the announcement cannot be heard or comes late.

    Also, there are still scoreboards that only show the names of the batsman – but not the bowlers.

    There’s others that shows the bowler’s number instead – which is not much help unless you have the card to hand.

    So, while I don’t like change, think that this is actually a positive move. (for once)

  • I’m afraid in any organisation where you have too many highly paid people, they have to do something to justify their inflated salaries and often unnecessary jobs. It’s a bit like quangos and “think tanks” often full of so called experts with actually little or no expertise. I call it “tinkering”, a bit like the new proposals for clocks at the end of the over etc. The way of the world perhaps, but actually unnecessary as James says in his piece. More is rarely better in life, keep it simple. Cricket is complicated enough to the casual spectator.

  • Well said James. Further proof that the powers that be don’t give a damn about first class cricket. Next step: pyjamas and those horrible black sightscreens in test matches

  • This is just awful. Cricket’s aesthetic beauty has been gradualy eroded by these idiots in charge, coloured clothing the dreadful sweaters now worn by England . Its so sad. Why this obsession with attracting youngsters? will the ruination of crickets traditions make it more attractive?

    • Like everything else promoted ‘to attract youngsters’ it is nothing of the sort (although I have nothing against this particular idea). I was at the Surrey League meeting last October where we were being told that Saturday league games should all move to shortened limited over format ‘because the ECB had looked at this and it is needed to attract and keep youngsters’. A bit of forensic questioning of the poor girl sent along to defend this stupidity soon identified that they had no evidence at all that this was the case and were just pushing it because they hoped it would work.

      Fortunately we are successfully resisting the moves on match format.

      • In my experience, the problem is not ‘attracting’ youngsters, it’s keeping the best ones when they reach their mid teens now that football is played pretty much all year round.

        • Keeping players has always been a problem. It’s not worse now than it was before.. it’s just we have more people leaving as life has changed.

          Shortening games is not going to help .. but they won’t listen so will continue to push people away

  • As someone who doesn’t have the best eyesight a condition not helped by glasses I can’t ‘go to specsavers’ and I would appreciate anything that helps we tell if the fielder on the other side of the ground is Joe Root or Rory Burns.

    I also seem to explain how to read the scoreboard to at least one spectator at every International Match I go to I don’t think you can assume that everyone is able to understand all the information up there and heaven forfend they lose concentration in 8 hours of play and forget who is on strike. Kick them out I say, no refunds. git gud as the video game trolls would say.

    Also the survey were Test Cricket was the 86% responders favourite was promoted as a “survey on the future of Test cricket”, quite a selection bias. If you want to share that nonsense as fact then you might as well join Leave.EU

  • For once I completely disagree with you. It’s an excellent innovation. I do care greatly who the fielder is, and for many touring sides it will be a great way of getting to know who’s who in the team while they’re fielding. I see much of my test cricket at Lords and the scoreboard there is hopeless at identifying fielders, often they just don’t bother with the name at all. Also, being able to see the names on the backs of the slip cordon when bowling is at the other end is a massive boost. I can’t wait for it to happen. And if it increases the sale of replica shirts, so what? Good for the players concerned. Commentators might also like it too I imagine.

    • How does not knowing the name of a fielder for a few moments spoil your enjoyment of a cricket match?????

  • Why are we all surprised – it’s just naked greed, if you add a name and number you can add an extra tenner at least to the price of a shirt – in ten years time we will look at this as the good old days – by then cricket will be unrecognisable – the more executives and hangers on you employ the more money you need to rake in to justify it – the only real answer to crickets declining participation and popularity is to put it back on free to air television – simples !!!

  • Good grief – of all the things to get het up about this is not the one. In recent times there has been a worrying trend for players to grow beards, or to put it more accurately, to sport facial growth. It’s difficult to tell ’em apart.
    I’ve been watching FC cricket for well over 60 years. During that time my eyesight has become weaker. Scoreboards are not necessarily wonderful at all grounds. PA announcements are not necessarily wonderful at all grounds.
    Were there posters on here who objected to the introduction of a third stump?
    I’ll tell you what I get mad about – pitch access. When play is not in progress the grounds are full of media employees of one type or another, often interviewing each other. Get rid of ’em all.
    Gee whizz, cricket needs a Bercow to cut through all the crap.

    • Sympathise with the sight loss. I do. And totally agree about the access to pitches. I loved inspecting the pitch at tea time etc in the good old days. I do wonder this, however. If one’s eyesight it poor, how are the numbers on shirts even visible? When I’m watching cricket at the ground the only numbers I can really see are the ones of fielders close to me. And it’s pretty obvious who they are anyway. I’ve always identified fielders by their height / weight / body language etc. I accept that casual cricket watchers might not know who everyone is, but have they really come to see Joe Root field? They’ll soon know when he’s batting. And the number on his shirt won’t be visible to anyone but those standing a square leg with binoculars anyway :-)

  • If we must have this, let their number be strictly according to scorecard order.

    The reason for me saying this is not that I want Moeen Ali to have to lug around lots of shirts. People are saying it’s about making cricket more like football or about merchandising. It is, but there’s more to it. It’s about occult numerology. You may not believe in it, I may not believe in it, it doesn’t mean they don’t believe in it (and by “they” I don’t necessarily mean the players who may not know why they’ve been encouraged to bear a particular number).

    Ask yourself why numbers like 66 appear so frequently. Are there 65 other players in the sqaud?

    • Didn’t Michael Vaughan, who is currently saying this a wonderful idea on social media, used to wear No.99 or something totally random in ODIs? I’m not sure how that helped casual fans to identify him or build his personal brand. As skipper he should’ve been No.1 or something similar.

    • “Moeen Ali to have to lug around lots of shirts” — great line!

      But I’d prefer the opposite, and actually want players’ numbers to be standardized across all formats: if you learn a player’s number in a 50-over match, they’ll have that same number in 20-over and test matches.

      Scorecard-order numbers means looking up each time who’s playing where. With consistent numbers, once you’ve learnt a player’s number, it’s always the same.

      And surely ‘Root 66’ is just a pun, rather than anything significant about the number itself?

    • When Bairstow played his first game for England, the media somehow came up with the idea that he chose the number 51 because that was the year his father was born, and they spread it all over the place. In the end, someone had the sense to actually ask him and he was all taken aback and said: “What? No, I just picked a random number that was available.” They probably meant well, but what with him fairly young at the time and new to the international scene and probably not overly keen on sharing such an emotional issue with random strangers, this sort of thing seems a bit inconsiderate. [Off-topic tangent on how the frequent lack of respectful distance in their dealings with Bairstow over the years might go some way to explaining why he’s not always overly relaxed with the media.]

  • Gosh, our beloved cricket is creeping towards Americanisms. What next, ditching the name England and calling them The Badgers, The Cows, The Pints, The Brexits?

    We need to let Richardson know that we must keep traditions, modernising through technology fine, but leave out American sports bullshit please!

  • Provided they keep the white kit I have no strong feelings about names and numbers ……… but I am surprised that no one has spotted the obvious explanation for this move; it makes it easier for Mr Ed to spot, from the comfort of his G&T, whether some awful oik has sneaked in a player who does not meet his criteria of

    * having never expressed sympathy for non-persons such as P…(you know who). So no shirts with Bell on the back.
    * plays for the wrong county. I am amazed he has not suggested putting the players county under their name.

    and, of course, it also makes it easier to confirm that players like Jennings and Curran are on the field despite any efforts by the captain and coaches to select better players.

  • Not worth talking about as many County championship teams already have names and numbers on shirts so it was inevitable.

    Didn’t you notice?

    • Was waiting for someone to raise this point. Has it added anything to the championship? I do think this is more needed (if indeed it is needed at championship level though). The players are not as recognisable at this level, even for those who watch quite a lot of county cricket.

  • I’m largely indifferent (we’ve had it with county cricket for years) but far more worrying are Vaughan’s further proposals which I’ll quote for you: ”add a bit of colour as well .. make the Shirts more inviting for Kids to want to wear”.

    How did this guy win the Ashes?

    • Vaughan is ghastly. Has no aesthetic taste alas. Let him immerse himself in the gold pads brigade in franchise cricket. There is nothing as lovely as whites on green.

      • Have you seen his artwork? A colour blind monkey could produce better – but it may explain his view on coloured kit.

    • What is next? Skimpy (however you define it) clothing for the ladies (they’ll argue it will sell to bigger audiences)?

      And once this step has been taken, what is stopping them from adding sponsors to that? Ishant Sharma’s wicket – brought to you by Head & Shoulders.

  • It is weird how he captained a side in one of the greatest test series ever, and all that sense of history that goes with the Ashes, yet has no respect for any of it and just wants bish bash bosh and brightly lit colours and gimmicks.

  • Adding names and numbers. The numbers are meaningless so why bother. Adding names doesn’t do any harm but isn’t going to add any value.

  • Seems to me it’s an obvious nod to the footie marketing of individuals over teams. We have it in the county game, so why not in tests. In Footie kids certainly seem to identify with the stars. Look how many Ronaldo 7’s and Messi 10’s kids here wear. It doesn’t mean they support Barcelona, Real Madrid or Juventus. I think it’s a good move to attract more youngsters, though the parents may find themselves out of pocket. I remember when Lara came to Warwickshire suddenly loads of kids who we’d never seen wearing a Warwick shirt were sporting his ‘named’ one. At least in test cricket strips don’t change every season. It makes supporting more personal and if you have favourites why not. I don’t see how it cheapens the game.
    I don’t think it has a lot to do with our bredren accross the pond either, it’s more a footie thing. The same is happening in Rugby, as players have their specialist positions and are unlikely to change much, though at international level it is a squad game so the players have squad numbers, which means little to the uninitiated.
    The confusing element for cricket is that test batting orders change with new personnel coming and going all the time, so either the shirts are going to have to be interchangeable or each test is going to have to have new ones. I guess in footie, which is what most sports fans are most familiar with, numbers dont mean an awful lot anymore, as positions merge into more flexible formations. However the star players do seem to keep the same numbers, wherever they play. At least I would settle the argument over is Root a ‘3’ or a ‘4’.

  • No problem with this at all. Will make players readily identifiable to everyone watching both at the ground and on TV. County cricket and other international cricket have had names and numbers on shirts for years, no reason why Test cricket shouldn’t do the same.

    “Tradition” is far too often cited in cricket merely as an excuse to resist change. As cricket fans we need to pick our battles wuth the authorities – save your powder for the ridiculous Hundred rather than a small change which just brings Test cricket into line with other forms of the professional game.

  • I often don’t know who cricketers are in photographs on, say, Twitter, or in the press, where perhaps only one person is mentioned in the caption (“Ben stokes celebrates taking the wicket”, but photo has other players in it, too).

    I don’t have Sky, and free TV doesn’t even always have highlights these days. Yes, I can recognize Stuart Broad and Moeen Ali, but the men’s test team has also tried out many other players during the past few years, several of whom I don’t (yet) know what they look like.

    It’s frustrating to see a photo/video clip of some play and not know who a cricketer is. Particularly if there’s a 6-year-old asking me. Yes, I could probably work it out by searching out photos and a process of elimination. But that takes time and effort, so I usually don’t bother.

    So names on players seems like an improvement to me, an existing follower of test cricket.

  • About this story particularly I’d probably err on the side of tradition but really there are far bigger threats to cricket such as scheduling of the county championship (in my opinion this is worse than the 100), the 100, and the fact the entire sport is paywalled, I just watched the entire six nations. Later in the year I’ll watch the Rugby world cup. French Open and Wimbledon will be on in the summer. Footy qualifiers if I desire. Snooker, athletics. Yet, ”we cannot put cricket on terrestrial”, reiterated by Bumble and his monied-up elitist ilk. How does this argument have any credence? Even among cricketer lovers I say the usual, ”Sky have improved sport broadasting bollocks”. There is almost a side of me – and I love cricket with a passion – ”bugger this sport”. I’m fed up with it all.

    I can only think of one sport managed as badly: boxing. And ITV and C5 are now showing an interest in boxing!!

  • Also F1. Marmite but live coverage now behind paywall. Average 2.7million on C4. Now700,000 on Sky. We need test cricket live on terrestrial and now there seem to be no highlights of overseas tours and radio coverage on the inaccessible Talk Sport 2 which is good but not on Freeview.

  • I am an American who has found cricket in order to escape the pervasive modernizations of my homeland’s sports which take away the almost spiritual quality of such contests; that destroy the mythology and leave them with nothing left but feats of strength and personality that have no quality of transcendence. Cricket has preserved so many of these qualities, I hope it continues to do so.

    • Couldn’t agree more. There seems to be a constant perception in society about “modernisation” of everything which is really change for changes sake without any good reason. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
      I see there is yet another T20 league, something called the Euro Grand Slam I think. While sounding like Nigel Farage in the EU Parliament, it’s like opening yet another chain of fast food restaurants to tip more crap down the throats of consumers. Call me old fashioned it you like but they can keep it.


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