The ECB’s Strategy For The Future Of Cricket

Cricket Supporters’ Association member and volunteer, Annie Chave, shares her report and reaction following the recent ‘Inspiring Generations’ conference hosted by the Devon Cricket Board and a chat with the ECB’s Tom Harrison.


Billed as ‘Inspiring Generations’, a conference to showcase the ECB’s Five-Year Strategy for Cricket (2020-2024) was hosted by the Devon Cricket Board at Sandy Park Rugby Ground in Exeter on 28 March 2019. The aim was to explain how Devon Cricket will integrate its planning with the ECB’s new strategy. Looking round the room, I could see that there was a good mix of generations, ranging from 16 to 70, around 20% of whom were women. Since Devon is 94.9% white British, the lack of ethnic diversity was no great surprise. Given the demographic, it can be said that there was a good turnout of cricket-loving fans just before the start of a new season, coming together to learn of the ECB’s plans to ensure that cricket continues to thrive and to inspire generations. So why did the occasion feel so insistently corporate? It’s as if the word ‘Conference’ necessitates the overwhelming presence of men in suits handing out glossy brochures. Despite the inevitable power-point presentations, it didn’t feel cutting-edge, and there was no convincing evidence that we were finding new ways of bridging the generation-gap. The ECB’s focus was on children, but there were no children’s voices to be heard.

The whole evening was billed on the premise that, although cricket is healthy in most parts of this country, it needs to adapt to a rapidly changing society. When Tom Harrison, the ECB’s Chief Executive Officer, was introduced as the keynote speaker, one of the first things he did was to quote a favourite motto of gung-ho corporations, ‘You may not like change, but you’ll like irrelevance even less’. This was the guiding principle for the ECB’s introduction of their ‘new competition’, The 100. After extensive research and hundreds of consultations, Tom Harrison was emboldened to claim that the ECBs ‘Five Year Plan to Inspire Generations’ is the only plausible way forward: one thing, he promised, that you’ll never hear him do is ‘apologise for seeking to grow cricket’.  And you won’t, I don’t doubt that at all.

In talking about the state of cricket in our country, Tom Harrison was not only ready to admit, but also keen to stress that currently it’s thriving. There are approximately 2.5 million players and 20.5 million followers annually. And it’s noteworthy that, currently, our Women’s team are world champions and our Men’s ODI team are number one in the world, that we still have huge attendance figures at Test Matches and that we have a strong county network. All this, he said, should be coupled with new broadcast partnerships as well as with commercial partners who share the vision of the power of cricket.  He’s proud of the position we’re in, and he’s keen to capitalise on the impetus of this year’s World Cup and Ashes to retain the present spectator base and to capture yet more. The ECB’s five-year plan aims to do this by balancing the need for the sport to continue to serve its loyal fans with the goal of extending cricket’s appeal (particularly to younger audiences and to women and girls).

I found some of what Tom Harrison said a hard pill to swallow. I’m one of those loyal fans, and I know I am not alone in feeling invisible. Many of my questions remain unanswered and some of my concerns derided.  I was hoping that the answers would be forthcoming and these concerns addressed. But ….

I should be fair. The ECB is targeting some of the real issues in cricket; youth participation, women’s cricket and accessibility in cities, for example. Their strategy is centred on six key priorities, which Tom Harrison listed:

– To grow & nurture the core

– To inspire through elite teams

– To make cricket accessible

– To engage children & young people

– To transform Women’s and Girls’ cricket

– To support our communities.

The plan will see more investment than ever before, with the initial sum of a cool £485 million. There is no doubt that the six nominated priorities are really worthwhile, and, if the money is well spent, we should see real improvements in these areas.  Tom Harrison recognises the need for money to be channelled into schools, and he hopes for an increase in participation in Primary Schools from 22% to 40-50%. He understands the need to make cricket more accessible, with inroads being made in urban centres.  The ECB has been helping the London Cricket Trust to install non-turf pitches in London parks, a great initiative which targets the massive issue of accessibility in cricket. The theory is great, but the details that he shared were, inevitably perhaps, vague, and there was no mention of Secondary Schools, where, surely, there is the greatest need for investment. It is at this level that the gulf between private and state schools is most apparent, and it is over these years that children are learning and developing targeted skills. Chance to Shine has been a fantastic success, and we should build on that by targeting the older age group. It is during the ‘secondary’ years that interest waxes and wanes.

The ECB is not confining itself to new initiatives. As Tom Harrison explained, £55 million will go to the first-class counties over the next five years to help fund the County Championship, the Vitality Blast and the Kia Super League.  He made no mention of the Royal London One Day Cup, but, when I quizzed him afterwards, he said that was just an oversight. Perhaps, then, I risk reading too much into his not mentioning the one-day game, and maybe I place too much importance on the fact that it is being relegated to minor grounds in 2020 and stripped of overseas players. Even so, I remain sceptical about the introduction of a new format in an already over-crowded schedule, and it’s surely pertinent to ask how this can possibly be reconciled with an intention of capitalising on the impetus of the World Cup?

Tom Harrison then talked about The 100. I’ve written a fair bit about this, and I don’t want to go into too much detail here. What was clear is that he is fully committed to it. He introduced it as a competition that ‘will be the most successful thing that English cricket will be involved in’. He has ‘never seen such a positive reaction’ from people involved in its trials, with the players’ feedback hailing it as ‘proper cricket’. Whilst he recognises the popularity of The Blast, attendance at which has grown by 115% since 2012, he criticises T20 for its ball-by-ball slowness. It is, he says, the slowest format of the game. The 100 will address this issue of time. And yes, he has a point. There are occasions on which a T20 over seems to last an eternity. But this, surely, is something that can be addressed within the format itself, and it’s difficult to see how a format like The 100, designed to give each ball maximum weight, is likely to speed up the game. I feel equally ambivalent about another of Tom Harrison’s positives. The 100, he argues, simplifies the game of cricket for new spectators. A counter-argument is that the game’s complexities are what make cricket great. Clearly, though, Tom Harrison and many of the powers that be, fearful of irrelevance, feel the need to provide a competition that people can more easily understand.  And this competition – the final, clinching argument – will be available on Free-to-Air Television. Tom Harrison says that it is only this new competition has made this possible. Thirteen matches in The 100 will be shown on the BBC, and the impact on the population at large, and on young potential cricketers in particular, will be huge.

This, of course, is another contentious issue, and one on which I needed to bite my tongue. It was the ECB which took cricket off free-to-air when they sold it to Sky in 2005. Bringing it back, if not an act of contrition, is a definite U-turn. As Vic Marks has said, ‘now we have an implicit acknowledgment that the decision, taken more than a decade ago, not to insist upon some cricket remaining on F-t-A TV was contrary to the best interests of the game’. An implicit acknowledgement is better than none, and having cricket back on the BBC can only be a good thing.

Tom Harrison’s was a well-rehearsed, cleverly positive speech that aimed to leave no doubt that The 100 was the only avenue.  I can see the reasoning, but I think it’s been clumsily introduced as a concept. It throws up real concerns about the future of the first-class counties. There was some irony in the holding of the Conference in Devon, as The 100 won’t be played here. I was told that I could watch it on TV, but I think that misses the real point of exclusion. Somerset C.C.C., which was well represented at this conference, will not be hosting The 100, Cardiff will be the closest ground. There was nothing in the speech, or in my conversations afterwards, that has helped convince me that the 10 counties that aren’t hosting The 100 will still have first-class status beyond the next few years.  My greatest fear for Somerset – that Taunton will dwindle into a host ground and a venue for bands – is still with me. Those professional cricketers who proclaim that the white-ball game is the ‘only way forward’ do no service to many of their fellow-professionals. And if The 100 takes hold of the nation’s cricket, if it proves as ‘inspirational and successful’ as its advocates believe it will, how bleak will be the outlook for the also-rans?

At the end of the evening Tom Harrison tried to reassure me that I will love The 100, but seeing as it is as far from the County Cricket that I love & it threatens to jeopardise its existence, I have reason to doubt that.  Given the time and money that The ECB are investing into this ‘new competition’ I hope that it is the success they expect it to be and I hope it generates the income to maintain the other formats as it promises it will, otherwise I fear for the future of all cricket in this country.

The need for the Cricket Supporters’ Association

Every so often, English cricket embarks on “a review.”

Invariably, this is described as a consultation with all the “stakeholders” in the game. Which tends to mean the broadcasters, the sponsors, the players and the counties. And, fair enough: all of them are important.

But the group that is overlooked is the spectators. Despite the fact that they indirectly pay the wages of just about everyone involved in the game – the players, the administrators and the media – they are, all too often, taken for granted or even exploited.

Part of the problem is that cricket is run by cricketers. Or at least ex-cricketers. And that means it is run by people who have, all too often, forgotten what it’s like to pay to come into the ground. It’s run by people who have forgotten what it’s like to spend a considerable proportion of their most precious asset – their holiday entitlement – on watching a team that provides no guarantee of success or even entertainment. Hell, there isn’t even a guarantee of play. It’s run – and commented upon – by people who often sit behind glass, benefit from heating or air-con, a free lunch, free parking and free tickets. It’s run by people who have, all too often, forgotten what it’s like to be a spectator.

The tangible aim of the Cricket Supporters’ Association, therefore, is to persuade the ECB to accept a supporters’ representative onto the ECB board to ensure they can be consulted and considered at all times. The less tangible aim is simply to remind everyone – the umpires, the players, the schedulers etc – to think about the spectators a little more. To ensure their views and priorities are at least considered when major decisions are being taken.  It’s meant to be a spectator sport, after all.

In time, the ICC and other national boards should invite similar representation. It won’t weaken them. Instead it will provide them with greater insight into the thoughts of spectators and allow them a relatively straightforward way to canvas views and gain feedback. It should benefit everyone. We are, the vast majority of the time, all on the same side.

For it to work, though, it needs your support. It needs to demonstrate that it fairly represents a meaningful number of spectators and that it has no ulterior motives. Ultimately, it needs you.

I therefore urge you to support it and to get involved. It’s your association.

George Dobell
Senior Correspondent, ESPNcricinfo

Clubbies and fans? The lifeblood of the whole show

Without a thriving amateur game, backed by an engaged and energised army of paying supporters, the game in this country doesn’t mean a bean.

 

It’s the clubbies and fans – so often one and the same – who hold it all together. Who form a body of cricket lovers demanding to feel respected and listened to. Who ensure that all that staged madness at Edgbaston, Cardiff and Leeds has some way of rooting itself in the realities of ordinary people’s lives.

 

Clubbies and fans? The lifeblood of the whole show.

 

And listen closely. You can even hear it, beating in the hearts of all our volunteers, giving their lives to the clubs they love.

 

And listen again. Because it’s there in our oldsters, plonked these days on their favourite benches, looking out on the field of play – be it Lord’s or the local – to reflect on the fruits of their labours. And it’s there in our young ‘uns – running, drinking, laughing, putting money behind the bar and through the turnstiles.

 

It’s there in the parents, taking a punt on a cricket club coaching session before, with a deep breath, shelling out the inevitable tickets to a big game. It’s there in our coaches, striving manfully to debunk the most complex and beguiling game of them all. It’s there in all of us, in our builders and students, our strippers, coppers, nurses, judges and scoundrels, all of us entwined, across age and gender, united in cricket.

 

For too long, English cricket took its greatest assets for granted. When the ECB carried out its own research in 2014, they uncovered some chilling trends. Among children aged between seven and 15, only two per cent ranked cricket as their favourite sport. Even worse, when asked to name ten sports, three in five of those kids made no mention of cricket at all. Those figures, combined with the headline shocker that the number of recognised club players had dropped from 908,000 to 844,000 in one year, caused shockwaves at the ECB.

 

Things are happening. The fight is on. The ECB is now openly serious about growth and participation. Its new entry-level programme, All Stars Cricket, has already been adopted by over 1,750 clubs for 2017. Chance to Shine continues to do incredible work getting some version of cricket into state schools. The MCC Foundation has set up over 40 Hubs across the country, providing high-class free coaching to talented kids from less advantaged backgrounds. The National Cricket Conference continues to represent the interests of over 1,100 clubs.

 

And then there are our supporters’ groups, rolling on, mobilising the troops as best they can, ferrying parties of fans around the country and overseas. Every fan, every player, every vote.

 

The Cricket Supporters’ Association fits perfectly into this landscape. Giving voice to the most important people in the English game. Let’s hear you.

Phil Walker

Editor, All Out Cricket

ECB looking at artificial pitches

According to George Dobell at Cricinfo:

‘The ECB is looking into the possibility of using artificial pitches in its proposed new T20 competition.

Keen to ensure the best-possible surfaces (for batsmen, anyway) for a competition seen as vital in attracting a new audience to the game, the ECB recently held a meeting with county groundsmen where the idea was discussed. ESPNcricinfo understands that Chris Wood, the ECB’s Pitch Consultant, has been charged with researching how to introduce such surfaces ahead of the launch of the competition in 2020.

There are significant pros and cons to the use of such pitches. While it would likely result in a certain homogenisation of conditions and provide even less opportunity for bowlers to extract anything from surfaces, it would also enable grounds to provide the centre-wicket pitches required by broadcasters multiple times without concerns about deterioration. Artificial surfaces might also be considered to provide uniformity of conditions for both teams, which a turf surface will not always offer.

Drop-in surfaces have also been considered but are not thought to be cost effective or provide quite the same uniformity of performance.

While long-term lovers of cricket may have reservations about artificial surfaces, the ECB’s mantra over the new competition is that it is not designed to appeal to those already watching the game: it is designed to appeal to the vast potential audience that is currently immune to its charms. The ECB feels that providing such good-paced surfaces will help create the high-scoring, boundary-filled cricket it believes will attract that new audience. It might also minimise delays after poor weather.

To that end, Wood is looking into the best options and cost implications of laying such pitches close to the middle of squares in all first-class grounds’.

What do you think? Get involved and leave a comment below.

The full article can be read here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/county-cricket-2017/content/story/1083052.html

Ben Stokes: ‘Test Cricket is the pinnacle’

The new England vice-captain can be found on www.ecb.co.uk talking about Test Cricket and the importance of the fan to the game.

“Test cricket is the pinnacle and we need people to fall in love with it again. We need to win but we want to perform in a manner that makes people want to come and watch us.

“We want to be positive, aggressive and always on the front foot. If we do that then we will get those performances. The team we have is full of natural entertainers. We need them to perform like they did for their counties, that’s why they got there in the first place.”

In the interview, Stokes is looking back to the Test against New Zealand at Lord’s in May 2015 – a stonker of a match which saw thousands of fans including lots of kids queuing for a ticket on the final day.

Stokes went onto say, “I’d never seen it like that. There had been runs galore in those first four days, something was always happening – people wanted to see us play exciting cricket.

I will always remember that, we got people to notice Test cricket and we need to do that again”.

Is Test cricket the pinnacle for you? Get involved and let us know what you think.

The full interview can be read here: https://www.ecb.co.uk/news/333399