The test match summer may be over, but there’s still plenty of unfinished business – and I don’t mean the one-day internationals.
As the blogger Dmitri Old observed this week, “the disgraceful conduct of our governing body has caused a schism between fans and the ECB that may never be healed. In my lifetime I cannot remember feeling such antipathy towards a national team”.
You only have to read the discussion boards, either here or any cricket site, to realise the depth of feeling and extent of division. England have just won a series 3-1, and yet many of us remain querulous, unhappy and resentful. What does that tell you? That a sizeable proportion of English cricket followers have suddenly developed a personality disorder? Or that something’s genuinely wrong?
Not everyone’s discontent. Some say it’s high time to move on. But for those of us who can’t, the problem isn’t merely what our contributor Tregaskis describes as the “detritus, destruction and deceit” of the last six months, and “the flood of a murky culture that swamps and infects our national game”.
It’s the fact there has been no resolution, nor even an attempt at one. The ECB have made not one iota of effort to even recognise the levels of disaffection, distrust and dismay – let alone do anything about it.
The charge sheet makes such familiar reading that I need only summarise it: the sacking of Kevin Pietersen; its motives; the way it was carried out, and the ECB dissembling which followed.
The aftermath exposed the ECB’s contempt for its supporter base; “outside cricket”, “move on”. Outraged by our insolence and disobedience, determined to silence dissent, they told us to shut up and mind our own business. They broke their own confidentiality agreement and then expected our sympathy. They schmoozed journalists into propagating their lies, but wouldn’t even give us the time of day.
For none of this has the ECB been brought to account, or even been asked any difficult questions.
The England test team themselves have become entangled in the antipathy. Like it or not, they are the on-field representation of the ECB, and a victory for the side is also a victory for Giles Clarke. Enmity has rightly focused on Alastair Cook, who only has himself to blame for signing a Faustian pact with Paul Downton.
In the wake of the Oval test, Jonathan Agnew wrote that:
“This has been a summer unlike any I have known before. There has been a lot of angst, division and anger towards the England team.The England and Wales Cricket Board handled the sacking of Kevin Pietersen and the fall-out from the Ashes tour so badly that a lot of genuinely-devoted England supporters felt they did not quite belong. For the first time since the Allen Stanford affair, I came across fans who actually wanted the team to fail”.
At least Jonathan – who I interviewed in May about supporter-media relations – recognised the issue, and without callings us fringe idiots or muppets.
But I can’t agree with what he went on to say:
“Let’s just hope that it really is the end of a divisive summer and that everyone can now get behind the team and accept that England have moved on in a new direction”.
Why exactly should we do that? What’s changed? Why should we unilaterally declare peace when the ECB haven’t made the slightest effort at rapprochement? They’ve never apologised, they’ve never explained, and they’ve never acknowledged.
February’s events were about far more than a single cricketer. They were the stark revelation of the ECB’s true nature – as a governing body who regard the game as their private property and supporters as indentured cashcows. This is most strongly evidenced not only by the ECB’s ‘upstairs downstairs’ language of disdain and control, but a pricing and TV rights strategy which exorts those who can afford it and disenfranchises those who can’t.
According to the recent job advert, the “key responsibilities” of the next ECB chief executive include:
“Developing strong and long lasting relationships with all the key stakeholders in the game including the first class counties, the recreational game, Team England, the National Cricket Performance Centre, the MCC, the PCA, the ICC, and Government”.
Notice one little admission there? The only mention we get sounds more like an attempt to drum up new custom than anything else:
“To champion and publicise the game of cricket in England and Wales in its widest sense…inspiring new participants and supporters alike.
So – there’s the problem. But what do we do about it? We can debate on the internet all we like, but is there any action we can take which would actually make a difference?
Is there anything we can do to hold the ECB to account? To make our voice heard? To get our questions answered?
On a broader level, what can we do to reform the ECB – and specifically to influence Giles Clarke and the new MD into putting the interests of supporters much higher up the agenda.
Seriously. What do you think? Any ideas?
One tactic unlikely to succeed is a boycott. How could a clear connection be made between low match attendances and an organised protest? Ticket ticket sales were poor for four of this summer’s seven tests, yet no firm conclusions were drawn about the causes. Any attempt to stage a mass no-show would be laughed off, because empty seats could be attributed to any one of umpteen factors.
Neither is it possible for an outsider to change the ECB from within. The organisation has no democratic mechanism for supporter involvement or representation.
The board describes its power structure thus:
“Responsibility for the day-to-day running of the ECB rests with the executive management team who report directly to the chief executive, [who] in turn, reports to the chairman of the ECB Board.
“The [fourteen member] board is comprised of a chairman, deputy chairman and chairman of cricket elected by all 40 members of ECB, two independent directors, three directors from the first-class game, two directors from the recreational game, two ECB executives, a women’s game representative and an MCC representative”.
The chair – currently Clarke – is elected by a constituency of nineteen people: the eighteen chairs of the first class counties, and the chief executive of the MCC. The winner then goes forward for ratification by the forty one members of the ECB, thirty nine of whom are the county boards (in effect, the minor counties).
My suggestion is to include on the ECB board two representatives elected by an official but independent supporters’ body, both of whom have a vote in the elections for chair. If that sounds fanciful, is it any less logical than the current arrangement, in which the public provide one hundred per cent of the funding in return for zero per cent of the representation, unlike the MCC – a private club.
In theory, anyone could seek and gain election to the committee – and then the chair – of a first-class county club, which would give you a say at the ECB. But in such a role your responsibility is to further the interests of your club, not the general cricketing public.
So having ruled out boycotts or influence from within, what else can we do? I’m going to start with a very simple idea, in keeping with our role as bloggers, and try to put your views and questions to the man at the top.
On Friday afternoon I sent this e-mail to Andrew Walpole, the ECB’s press chief.
Call me a cynic, but I have a funny feeling Clarke will decline the request. But as they saying goes, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
I’ll let you know how they respond.