Picture the dilemma. You’re given four pegs – a round one, a square one, a triangular one, and one that’s shaped like an oblong. Your task is to neatly fit all four pegs into a series of holes. But you can only see three openings. And even those look like a tight fit.
What’s worse, the people who really care about the pegs (well, three of them anyway) absolutely detest the new oblong thing. But the person who gave you the pegs insists that the oblong is by far the most important and you need to find a place for that first.
So what do you do? Here’s what Sir Andrew has done…
Strauss has predictably created a pig’s ear of a solution that satisfies precisely nobody (except the designers of the ham-fisted funny-shaped peg), and then claimed that his solution is the only way to save the farm’s bacon.
He’s also claiming that his plan is the silkiest of all silk purses possible. Even though it’s no better or worse than all the other plans proposed by amateurs in the pub, on the back of fag packets, or even worse, on blogs like this one.
And that, my friends, is the High Performance Review in a nutshell. It’s a just another ‘meh’ proposal based on a series of porkies that have largely been left unchallenged – like the oft trotted out fallacy that oblongs remain the best way to engage a whole new audience of current vegetarians.
The truth, of course, is that whilst The Hundred may indeed have grabbed the attention of some new Mums and kids, it’s not doing nearly enough to justify the enormous collateral damage it’s causing, especially as its success is nearly all down to presentation / marketing and its exposure on free-to-air television.
Let’s look at the latest statistics, for example. TV ratings are already down on last year (by 20% on the BBC), attendances are slightly down, and it’s only attracted half as many viewers as the Test match highlights on the same channel – thus demonstrating that short forms of cricket aren’t necessarily as popular as the ECB believes.
And yet, The Hundred is set to bestride the calendar, unopposed, like Napoleon, until 2028 at the very least. Everything else has to fit around it. No wonder Strauss’s plan is about as convincing as the hyperbole spouted by competition’s sycophantic commentators.
So what, exactly, are we going to get if Strauss has his way:
The 50 over cup in April
The Blast starting in May
The Championship (cut down to 10 games and a playoff) in June, July, and September
The Oblong in August
Inspired? Me neither. Nor am I particularly pleased that Strauss wants to split the Championship into three divisions. Let’s not forget that England have played their best Test cricket over the last few decades when we had two tiers of equal numbers. If it aint broke, why fix it?
The problem, of course, is that shoving an oblong-shaped dagger into the heart of the domestic schedule hasn’t so much as broken the calendar as murdered it. And are they doing this to improve standards, create a more compelling competition, or even help the England Test team? Nope. They’re doing it simply so they can reduce the number of fixtures to 10. Because it’s the only way to accommodate the oblong that nobody asked for in the first place. Sigh.
Make no mistake about it, folks. This High Performance Review is therefore totally flawed – a complete waste of time and effort. It didn’t approach the job with a blank piece of paper so it was never going to create an optimal plan. Its proposals therefore benefit neither the England teams, the counties, nor the most important people of all: the supporters who fund the game through ticket sales, Sky subscriptions, licence fees, and merchandise.
Having said that, if I had to say one nice thing about it (and one accepts that no solution was ever going to be perfect anyway), the High Performance Review does have one ‘not as awful as it could have been’ aspect to it…
The idea of having a six team ‘super league’ (my description) supported by two feeder leagues of six isn’t as terrible as creating three regular divisions would be. After all, consigning six counties to a third (or bottom tier) would’ve been very uncomfortable and possibly hastened their demise. Now there’s a much bigger bottom tier (of 12 feeder counties) so smaller counties won’t be cast adrift to the same extent.
Meanwhile, although creating a six-team top tier will inevitably help the rich to get richer, at least this will be somewhat offset by the very real prospect of one big county being relegated from the top table every season. With just six teams and 10 games (several of which may be rain-affected) any county could be relegated in any given year. This could create compelling watching.
Overall, however, the drawbacks far outnumber the benefits. And you don’t need to have an IQ greater than Tom Harrison’s bonus to figure out why:
Let’s start with playing the 50-over cup in April. It’s just not going to work very well. Run-scoring, particularly in early-April, can be a lottery at times, and the conditions won’t resemble anything England’s World Champion ODI side will encounter anywhere else in the world. In fact, the weather is likely to be colder than I am on oblongs.
I’m also unsure about playing first class games alongside the Hundred. This is just a meaningless sop to county members concerned about the reduction in red ball fixtures. In reality, the cricket will be a pseudo-second XI affair played out by teams missing several of their best players. It will be about as much preparation for Test cricket as feigning interest in Bridgerton to appease the Mrs.
I’m also slightly concerned about what all this means for The Blast. Let’s not forget that Blast attendances, which almost reached one million in 2019, were cannibalised significantly by The Hundred this summer. And for what? A competition that only attracted half a million attendees despite having a marketing budget that dwarfs the average IPL pay packet thrown at it.
The bottom line, therefore, is this. Andrew Strauss has tried his best to create something vaguely acceptable but it was always going to be impossible given the constraints. Instead, what he’s actually demonstrated, and what the process that’s led us here has demonstrated, is that English cricket’s priorities are still upside down. And the culture of spin – don’t forget all those porkies – remains very much entrenched.
Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. Oink. Oink.
An excellent description of the pigs ear.
I despair having grown up in a city (Bath) that had an annual cricket festival that was always very well attended. This was axed which meant a 100 mile round trip to Taunton. I am happy to do this because I love the game.
Now retired I enjoy away trips to lovely traditional grounds such as Northampton, Leicester, Derby, Scarborough and Southport.
I fear that my trips will be terminated to appease the money making moguls who have no love of the game and who just see it as another way to make a quick buck.
When I read the press summaries of the Strauss report, and his subsequent comments, I was reminded of the stunned silence which greeted John Major’s announcement in the House of Commons that, despite their divorce, there was no reason why one day Diana shouldn’t be Queen.
My reaction was that he was either stupid, or lying, but either way he didn’t think much of the intelligence of his audience.
The new ECB Chairman really is our only hope.
Oh well. I got that wrong !
New ECB chair Richard Thompson has performed a U-turn on The Hundred , having previously voted against the tournament in his role as Surrey chair.
During his time in charge of Surrey, they were the only county to vote against the introduction of The Hundred and he also resigned from the ECB board in 2018, claiming that “too many decisions are being made without enough genuine debate” with The Hundred one of them.
At the time, he told the Cricketer : “We may have become a victim of our own success by producing a great format that we then lost control of and the IPL managed to capitalise on more successfully than we did.”
Now, though, Thompson believes The Hundred is “creating real value for the game” and admits “that was not an argument I necessarily saw” when he opposed the tournament back in 2018 . In an interview with the Times , he said: “I’ve seen it from a broadcast perspective and I look at the audience data for Sky and the BBC and they are over the moon with it.
“It is reaching audiences other sports are not reaching let alone cricket. As a broadcast product it is very effective and it’s finding an audience that is creating real value for the game.
“In two-or-three years’ time, or whenever, I think the game might be surprised what The Hundred is worth. Four years ago, when I was against it, that was not an argument I necessarily saw.”
How can the Beeb and Sky be ‘over the moon’ with it when attendances and viewing figures are down. More people tune in to the test match highlights than The Hundred. You’re being conned Thommo, don’t believe anything the broadcasters tell you. It’s all pathetic propaganda. The whole project has been built on lies to feather the ECB nest.
Well, he’s not going to trash a product that the ECB’s strategic partner (Sky) has just paid £1 billion to show alongside Test cricket etc. I’d take those comments with a pinch of salt. The deal until 2028 was done before Thompson took office so his hands were tied. I’m still hopeful, however, that he will push things in a favourable direction as the tournament evolves.
The deal until 2028 was done before Thompson took office so his hands were tied.
That was exactly what the moribund incompetents at the ECB wanted. They have consistently put their own interests before that of the game.
Hope. His latest comment is that the Hundred is of real value to the game. Do any of us really think the ECB is going to appoint anything but another puppet.
I had hope, Marc, because of his stance when he was at Surrey, but you are quite right – he wouldn’t have got the job unless he had become an oblong man. Sad.
Yes Richard Thompson is our only hope. Being a Surrey member I know his views are much similar to most of us. They bulldozed the TV contracts for the 100 through before his chair was warm. The ECB virtually begged him to take the job because after almost a year there were no takers. Not surprising as it’s a poisoned chalice. I think after a year he’ll either still be there, or will go. There was a very good book in the 1990s about crickets problems then called “War MinusThe Shooting” by Mark Maquesse. In 12 months it could be reissued as War With The Shooting. The ECB is currently not fit for purpose top to bottom, it should go to save the game as we know it.I
So sorry about Queen Elizabeth. When you are in your 70s it’s like a part of your life disappearing.
If the 16.66 really is about creating a gateway into cricket for youngsters with short attention spans, why is it not the 16.66 that is moved to April? Then youngsters could be directed towards all the great cricket to follow in the summer….
As it is, the 16.66 is followed by the start of the football season. They can’t concentrate 3.2 more overs for a T20 but can remember they love cricket until next year?
The only reasonable conclusion is that the stated purpose of the 16.66 is not its true purpose.
I’ve thought the same. Makes no sense. I don’t think the public reasons given for the Hundred are the real reasons either.
Strauss is a typical example of modern day muddled thinking on the game. The more changes you make the better things will be, almost panic measures. The critics need to be more vocal and challenging to Strauss, calling for him to justify how these suggestions will make the game better. Mark you he’s on a hiding to nothing with the Hundred a commitment until 2028. Somehow he’s got to fit everything in, a catch 22.
I can only agree with the underlying thrust of your article James, that the Hundred is an interloper that is undermining all other aspects of the county game.
However, it is not going to go away any time soon. We have no option but to live with it. Or, in my case, ignore it.
Given this inevitability, I see some merit in the Strauss proposals as you outline them:
1 – The 50 over series in April – a nice curtain raiser to the season, with counties at full strength apart from players filched by the IPL;
2 – The championship mainly played in the summer months, so not enslaved to military medium on damp pitches;
3 – The prospect of some jeopardy throughout the season with only six teams in each championship division. The reduction in fixtures is regrettable, but at least there will be a complete home and away programme instead of the current mishmash where counties only play some opponents once.
Obviously I can see the drawbacks as well, especially the August famine, but the plan looks a bit more coherent than what we have at present.
Nasser summed it up perfectly on Sky yesterday when he said you can’t have both the T20 Blast and the Hundred. You can onky have one, and I think I know which one he wants!
Strauss’ review was little more than an attempt to provide some intellectual justification to a decision which, in his mind, had largely already been made. Credit is due to the ECB’s new chairman, Richard Thompson, for insisting on greater transparency in the Board’s decision making process & I am optimistic that he will have a positive impact on the opaque manner in which the review came into being & until very recently has been conducted.
In my opinion Strauss is not a good actor, but in that he has taken his lead from Graves & Harrison, resorting to veiled threats rather than seeking to convince, persuade or pay attention to the legitimate concerns of genuinely interested parties. It strikes me as unusual that an interim executive should have been charged with the responsibility of leading a strategic review of the Game in the first place; another example of the questionable management practices of the previous leadership. I’m hopeful that, without the authoritarian support of the old regime, his ‘modernisation’ agenda is unlikely to pass without extensive revision; most particularly in respect of the red ball game; although I fear those hoping to see the back of the Hundred will be disappointed.
There is a massive challenge ahead for Thompson if he is to restore confidence in the governing body & repair the enormous divisions caused by the behaviour of his predecessors. There is a considerable job to be done in corporate governance alone, Looking at the close proximity of ECB executives to the Board’s main broadcast partner & ensuring that other relationships with “interested parties” are compliant with standards of good governance and the law which requires them. Similarly, appointments to senior roles must not be approved ‘on a nod’. As the Chairman of a PLC Mr Thompson will understand these requirements better than most, we must hope that his focus moves quickly from the dubious question of whether domestic cricket is ‘fit for purpose’ to the rather more pertinent issue of whether the performance of the governing body itself stands full scrutiny.
Absolutely Lord Ted. You can’t have a supposed Governing Body that is so obviously not fit for purpose any more conducting a review of the game that the 100 is effectively left out of because it cannot be seen to fail. They have lied, cheated, threatened and taken huge bonuses and squandered huge amounts of money on this bastardardisation of cricket . The ECB operates behind closed doors and dare I suggest maybe needs more than full scrutiny, a full financial investigation over its activities.
So quick to criticise but what is your alternative? Remember that you can’t just focus on the cricket ideology but also the commercial aspects. Money keeps the game alive at all levels. The ills of the club game are not (only) the result of the changes of the top tiers. Clubs can’t keep people interested with 40+ over games take up so much time rather than because test cricket is behind a paywall.
My alternative would be to reschedule the 100, and replace it with a T20 competition. The season simply can not accommodate all of these competitions successfully and, as a result some forms of the game are being damaged,possibly irreparably. This is not a cricketing review. Strauss was effectively mandated to start from the proposition that the 100 is the be all and end all. Doing away with it would NOT mean less money coming into the game. It would probably bring in more, but it wouldn’t all go to the ECB, which is what the whole thing is about. The media just want a viewer friendly short form of the game and would be quite amenable to a switch to the internationally accepted short form of the game. It would also benefit the women’s international T20 prospects, which have been seriously damaged by the 100.
Domestic cricket was profitable enough before The Hundred came along. The ECB reserves were about £70 million. However, all of these reserves have now been used up on (setting up) The Hundred, which has also made a £14m loss in each of its first two seasons.
Absolutely right ! And to think that Harrison walked away with a bonus !!!
SL have scored more in their Asia Cup T20I than any innings is going to in the Test Match.
What a farce.
Excellent as always James. A camel is a horse designed by a committee…