Chris Read: one of life’s few certainties

The saying goes there are only two certainties in life, death and taxes. I can’t help but feel this saying should be amended to include Chris Read batting and keeping wicket for Nottinghamshire and yesterday saw news that re-enforces this. Yesterday Nottinghamshire announced that Read had signed a one year contract extension, which will see him behind the stumps at Trent Bridge until the end of the 2017 season.

Read made his debut way back in 1998 and has gone on to make over 650 appearances for the club, and with over 15,000 runs and over 1000 dismissals it is clear to see why Notts were keen to tie him down for another year.

At the ripe old age of 37, Read is not slowing down either. With the 2016 season just a few weeks old Read, has already amassed 329 runs at an average of 47 and collected 18 dismissals, vital for Notts, and I’m happy to add my Fantasy Cricket team, of which Read has been a main stay for many years.

It was clearly an easy decision for Read, saying yesterday: “For me, these decisions about contracts are all about how I’m feeling fitness-wise and whether I’m performing at a high level.

“I still love the game, I love playing for Nottinghamshire and I’m not thinking about retirement,” he added, “I’m happy with where my game is, I’m focused on us having a successful season and I’m looking forward to finishing my career here at Notts.”

Although mentioning retirement Notts fans will be hoping that, whilst Read’s form continues to be as impressive as it is, that a “mention” is all it is and not solid thought.

This is a hope shared by Mick Newell, the Nottinghamshire Director of Cricket, who said the following on the news of Read’s contract extension: “Chris is a very, very important player for us, not least because his wicketkeeping is of the highest quality and he continually gets us out of trouble with the bat.

“He is also our leader; he is an inspiration to the team and I hope he continues to play for a few more years.

“You only have to look at the way our form improved after we welcomed him back from injury last season to know what an important player he is for us, across all formats of the game.”

I echo Newell’s hopes that Read will play on beyond 2017. I find checking the cricket scores and seeing Chris Read has scored runs, taken catches and made stumpings, somewhat comforting. It is a constant in my life, since I started following cricket seriously around the same time that Read made his debut back in 1998.

Many things have changed in cricket over those years: the number of divisions in The County Championship; the creation of T20 Cricket; 40, 45, 50 and 60 over cricket in the one day game but the quality and excellence of Christopher Mark Wells Read has remained constant, and I look forward to watching him for hopefully many years to come.

 

Conversions could have “put more nails in the coffin”: Arun Harinath

Half-centurion Arun Harinath was left with mixed feelings after Surrey were unable to capitalise on strong individual displays after Day One against Durham at the Kia Oval.

Harinath, Steven Davies and Jason Roy all made 50s, but the visitors fought back as Surrey closed the day on 371-7 after three wickets fell in the last 12 overs of the day. And while Harinath feels his side are still in a good position, the opener admitted it could have been stronger after being 226-2 and 345-4 across the afternoon.

“We played well, but it could have been better and we’ve said that in the dressing room. We could have put Durham under a bit more pressure because a lot of people got starts but we got ourselves out more than anything,” said Harinath, following his 96.

“It was disappointing in that respect, but we’re happy with the position we’re in and with another partnership we can go well towards where we want to be.

“We want another partnership tomorrow, to see how far we can get in the game and maximum batting points are a priority.

“If some of us, including myself, didn’t get ourselves out early then we could have put a few more nails in the coffin. But we’ll have to come back tomorrow, keep on fighting as we have done for the last 12 months.”

It’s been a strong season for Harinath, after making a century against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge before falling four short of the same feat against a Durham attack featuring Ben Stokes, Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions.

And Harinath was happy with the form he has shown this season, as well as over the past year for Surrey.

“I think I’ve been playing well for the last 12 months, it’s just been a case of needing to convert that into runs. Luckily I’ve had the opportunity to do that this year and hopefully I can keep that going for the lads,” Harinath continued.

“It was a poor shot from me, a misjudgment of length. I thought it was a bit shorter than it was and that Durham attack is a disciplined one.

“Jason’s [wicket] was a little bit off the wicket; Davo’s [Davies’ wicket] was a good ball, and the new ball does seam around a bit. And you can get a bit of reverse swing too if you can keep the ball in a hard condition.

“Since Fordy [Graham Ford] took over, I’ve been playing pretty well. It’s just about getting the opportunity to show what I can do and get the runs.

“I’m happy with where I’m at, but it was frustrating to give it away and not make a big hundred that could have put us further ahead.”

Kumar Sangakkara has also been among the runs this season, although he made just 26 on Day One, while Davies made his first half-century of the campaign.

“I always enjoy batting with Steve, he’s had a couple of good balls which have seen him out early which can happen to everyone, but it’s great for Surrey that he’s in good form.

“They’re a very good bowling attack, a disciplined attack, and Stokes is an international quality bowler so it’s always a good challenge for us.

“Jason, Steve and I all think we could have got a lot more, and we could have put the game a bit more comfortable, but we still have three wickets in hand and we can come again tomorrow.

“When Kumar has a bad innings, you know someone’s going to have to pay next time out! He’s a high quality player, he’s scored a lot of runs this season and I’m sure he’ll keep going.”

Neil Wagner proves credentials with six wickets on Lancashire debut

It doesn’t get much better for a bowler than taking six wickets on debut for your new side.

That’s the feat Neil Wagner achieved in the first innings of Lancashire’s County Championship season as he starred in an impressive bowling display at Old Trafford.

In fact, his figures of 6-66 are the best figures by a Lancashire bowler on a First Class debut for Lancashire since Ted McDonald in 1924. An overseas signing looking to make an impact, Wagner and Lancashire couldn’t have asked for much more.

Much has been made in the build up to the new County Championship season about whether Lancashire can make the step up from Division Two to Division One – not least by Head Coach Ashley Giles himself.

That in mind, when Lancashire lost the toss against Nottinghamshire (yes, there was actually a toss!), and were made to field, there probably wouldn’t have been a huge amount of disappointment in the home dressing room at Old Trafford. While they would probably have also batted, if given the choice, bowling is without doubt the stronger suit for the Red Rose and Giles might well have been happy that their bowlers were first to face the top flight examination.

And in that opening session, his bowling unit passed the test with flying colours making a dream start to the new season.

Three wickets each for Kyle Jarvis and Wagner before lunch reduced their more-fancied opponents to 73-4. Anderson was wicketless but economical and, with Luke Procter proving a useful fourth seamer, Giles’ bowling unit were making a statement that they can mix it with the best that Division One has to offer. When you throw arguably England’s best spinner into the mix in Simon Kerrigan, Lancashire certainly aren’t found wanting.

But it was Wagner whose light shone brightest. Any man who has 19 Test caps for New Zealand has obvious quality, but he really underlined his class on his first morning in England’s County Championship. He looked quick, aggressive and swung the ball significantly to pose real problems to the Notts batsmen. One lbw, one bowled, two caught behind, one caught in the deep and one caught at cover highlighted the variety in his attack and the 29-year-old left-armer wasn’t afraid to bowl his fair share of short stuff to push the batsmen back.

Having played in the Liverpool Lancashire league for Ormskirk back in 2008, Wagner has now made his mark on the county once again and expressed his delight at getting the chance to play for the club.

“The team is in a good position, I’m happy, it’s been a good day,” Wagner said. “It’s a decent pitch, we thought it would do a little bit more.

“Big credit to Ash and the team here. It’s a great club and a great place to be at. The way they’ve dealt with everything has been top standard and it makes things easier for me.

“I never had any hesitation about coming here. It’s a great club and a great place and I’ve always had something for Lancashire since playing for Ormskirk.

“I watched lots of games here for Lancashire. I love the ground so for me to come here and play a part for such a special club has been pretty awesome. I’m just lucky to be here.”

Wagner looks like a bowler who will take wickets in any conditions which is possibly the biggest compliment you can pay. He became the first Lancashire bowler to take five wickets on debut since Simon Kerrigan in 2010 and with it showed his potential to become the leader of the Lancashire attack through this Championship season.

Fletcher keen to work with Welch and find his way back to Notts

If Andy Carter was feeling homesick following his Summer move from Nottinghamshire he needn’t have been worried. A familiar face will be joining him from today, with Derbyshire announcing the signing of paceman Luke Fletcher on a one-month loan deal from Nottinghamshire.

The tall paceman will be available for the county’s first five Specsavers County Championship fixtures, starting with this week’s opener versus Gloucestershire and continuing with matches against Glamorgan, Northamptonshire, Sussex and Essex.

Fletcher had success whilst on loan to Surrey last season, playing 3 first class games and taking 8 wickets at an average of just over thirty. This included match figures of 6 for 79 vs Derbyshire at the 3aaa County Ground and he will be looking forward to playing in similar conditions and adding to his first class wicket haul of 213.

Fletcher, who has a reputation for being a white ball specialist renowned for his ability to bowl the perfect Yorker on demand, will be keen to use his time at Derbyshire to enhance his reputation with the red ball, something he was keen to point out when he said:

“It’s an opportunity to play some four day games, take wickets, hopefully contribute to victories for Derbyshire and ultimately push my case to find a way back into the Nottinghamshire team.”

Fletcher has found his way to the Nottinghamshire first team in First Class cricket blocked by the emergence of Jake Ball and Brett Hutton, and the signing of Jackson Bird as Overseas Player for this season, coupled with the ECB’s decision to allow Stuart Broad to play the next three Specsavers County Championship. He will be hoping a successful spell with Derbyshire will show when he returns to Nottinghamshire, which will coincide with Broad’s return to the England fold, that he can be as potent with a red ball in his hand as with the white one.

Fletcher will no doubt have been lured to the 3aaa County ground not only with the prospect of regular first class cricket, but also the opportunity to work with Elite Performance Director Greame Welch, who is highly regarded in England as being one of the best bowling coaches in the game.

As it was with Andy Carter, who made the permanent move over the Summer. Carter said in a recent interview:

“I knew it would be a good move coming to Derbyshire and getting to work with Greame Welch who is one of the best around.”

Welch was also keen to point out that he is an admirer of Fletcher saying:

“Luke is a skilful bowler who has plenty of experience taking wickets for Notts in Division One. He will bolster our attack during this busy period and it will also be an opportunity for him to get some regular first team cricket.”

Derbyshire Chairman Chris Grant promised a loan signing of an experienced bowler earlier in the off-season. He has delivered on his promise and was clearly excited by the signing, tweeting out the news at 6 o’clock this morning.

This may prove to be a very astute piece of business, adding experience for the start of the season, to help the battery of young seam bowlers at Welch’s disposal. Hopefully getting the side off to a good start to the season, building momentum to propel Derbyshire up the table, which could be vital in a season where Derbyshire play seven Specsavers County Championship games in the first Seven weeks of the season.

EXCLUSIVE: Neil Snowball on the future of Warwickshire cricket and reaching the ultimate half-century

In an exclusive, in-depth interview on what just happened to be his 50th birthday, Neil Snowball tells Deep Extra Cover‘s Terry Wright about his early impressions of Edgbaston and his plans for the Bears. He gives a fascinating insight into what it’s like to be in charge of a Test Match stadium and a major county club.

DEC: You’ve been at Edgbaston since January. Is there anything so far that’s surprised you?

Neil Snowball: There’s a couple of positive things. Having looked from the outside in, I’ve always admired Warwickshire and thought that it had proud traditions and was a well-run club. But when I came here, I was really taken with the level of pride about the club. It’s so strong, through everyone I’ve met, the staff, the players, the coaches and the members. Everyone says the same: “proud to be a Bear”. I think that’s wonderful. You can’t buy that kind of culture and history.

The other thing is the attitude of city leaders in Birmingham, just how important Edgbaston and Warwickshire are to them. And that’s one of the things coming in that I talked to [Club Chairman] Norman Gascoigne about. We obviously have a crucial relationship with Birmingham Council and so how do we make more of this? It helps that they are unbelievably supportive. They want to use us to promote Birmingham and they want Birmingham to promote Edgbaston and Warwickshire so that has been a pleasant surprise.

DEC: What are the elements of your past experience that will be most relevant to the Chief Executive job?

NS: I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege to work on two major global events in the last 10 years – the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup. So as we look ahead to our major match days – Test Matches, T20 Finals Day, Champions Trophy next year and the World Cup in 2019 – the major event experience I’ve got can be applied to Edgbaston. We talk about being the best cricket business in the world, one of the best international grounds, and we talk a lot about the customer experience. I hope that I can bring quite a bit of experience to bear.

I think that on the actual performance side, again, I’ve had the privilege of seeing many of the top sports men and women in the world prepare to compete. If you look at the Olympics, I’ve seen not just individuals but how sports as a whole train. Having had to provide all the training facilities for lots of sports, it’s given me a unique insight into how they prepare. And with the Rugby World Cup, it was a real privilege to be able to spend time with the All Blacks and with Australia at close quarters and see how as teams they go about things.

The third element is on the business side, running this great stadium. It’s the first time I’ve been responsible for day-to-day running. I’ve usually been on the other side where I’m going in and taking over someone else’s venue. But I think that having seen how venues operate and how the business side operates I can bring some expertise to make sure that we’re running Edgbaston Stadium to the best of our ability.

Those are the 3 areas that strike a chord the most. Plus, in my eight years at Goldman Sachs I obtained a very solid grounding in business. I did quite a lot of building developments there, so that will put me in good stead because we’ve got to complete the land development around Edgbaston Stadium.

DEC: You mentioned the excellent relationship with Birmingham City Council. How does that play into the £20 million debt that the club owes to the Council?

NS: I think the Council genuinely see it as an investment. It is a loan; but it’s also an investment in Birmingham and they are very comfortable with that and with the repayment terms we’ve agreed. With all the uncertainty at the moment, I’d rather owe that money to the Council than to a bank because we could have some choppy waters ahead of us. So I think it’s a positive relationship and the reality is that if we hadn’t taken on that debt we wouldn’t have what we’ve got here at the stadium; and we wouldn’t be looking down the line at 35 days of major match-day cricket in the next three years. So it was a significant undertaking for the club but it was the right thing to do and I would say that it’s a relatively friendly debt compared with others.

DEC: Is there any progress on the naming rights for the stadium?

NS: There’s definitely progress. I’ve met with a couple of the companies we’ve been talking to. Gareth Roberts, our Commercial Director, is leading on that; we’re working with an agency to help us and we’ve got some really exciting options.

I’ve got a pragmatic view. If we can find the right company wanting to do it for the right reasons and wanting to invest the right amount of money, then it’s worth doing. It’s not something we are going to do just for the sake of it, for a quick fix. We’re not in that position now. Our corporate partner programme is very strong so we’ll only do it if it’s the right deal to be done.

The other thing is, we continue to talk to Birmingham City Council about how we can make the most of our association with them. At the Rugby World Cup each of the venues had locator boards telling the rest of the world about the location. So at Brighton, where we had the momentous South Africa v Japan game, all the post protectors had Brighton on them and it’s become a huge deal in Japan. Brighton has had an influx of Japanese tourists. So what we’re looking at with the ECB and with Birmingham is how we can make more of the Birmingham presence.

DEC: Regarding the future of county cricket, in the press release about the changes just announced for 2017, ECB Chairman Colin Graves said that county cricket has to be sustainable. What would be your interpretation of sustainable?

NS: Very good question. My definition coming from a business background is that if you’re solvent financially, you can stay afloat. There are certain counties that struggle to do that. It’s clear that for a number of years, the ECB have been underpinning county cricket and you could say that’s right, that’s their job. I think Colin Graves is meaning that they can’t keep giving payouts to counties to keep them afloat. How do you balance the books? One way is to look at T20. As we all know, whether you love T20 or hate T20, it’s a very important part of the future of the game and in many ways is the cash cow that financially supports the rest of the game. So Colin and Tom Harrison, the ECB Chief Executive, both feel, as we do at Edgbaston, that the T20 competition has to evolve and be up there with IPL and the Big Bash. We’re a bit off the pace at the moment so we’re missing out on an opportunity.

DEC: So does that mean a city-based franchise system in a few years’ time?

NS: I’m not keen on the franchise word. If you think of it like an American style franchise, you’ve got a wealthy businessman or woman who basically buys a team. I honestly don’t see that happening. Whether you’re looking at city-based teams or more of a regional thing, that might be the way forward. I’m slightly torn.

I’ve had two meetings so far with all of the Chief Executives – going back to surprises, I was pleasantly surprised at how collaborative the meetings were. Certainly amongst us all there is a genuine belief that change needs to take place but that we don’t need to rush into it for the sake of doing it; that we need to look at it. There was a distinct differential between the views of the Chief Executives of the category A grounds and the category C grounds, but there was a sense of collaboration that was refreshing and not, to be honest, what I was expecting.

In terms of where we go from here, again, I’m slightly torn. Part of me loves the fact that on 20 May, all 18 counties know they’ve got a chance of getting to Birmingham, to Finals Day and winning the Trophy. That’s a wonderful thing to have, whereas if you go to two divisions there’s only nine of them. Or if you go to a city-based structure, you move away from that completely. So I love the fact that it’s a very open competition and if you look at the history, some of the so-called smaller counties have come through and won it. But to be sustainable, I think we have to move to some kind of English Premier League and take our place alongside the IPL and the Big Bash.

Obviously I will be doing all I can, as will my team, to make sure that Birmingham is at the heart of any new developments. And even though it was nothing to do with me, I am very proud of the fact that we ARE the Birmingham Bears. It shows that we are innovative; that we are leading the charge rather than following. I know that some people don’t like the Birmingham Bears brand but I think it is the way forward.

Birmingham is the second city; Edgbaston is the biggest ground outside London. We would never be complacent but I’d be surprised if we weren’t at the centre of whatever the new order looks like.

DEC: You said recently that you thought English cricket should get back to having just six Test Match grounds. Is that achievable?

NS: It goes back to the business side and the economics. Durham is a wonderful ground and I think they’ve done a great job, but for them to be paying what they are to be hosting a Sri Lanka Test Match in May just doesn’t stack up. It’s as simple as that. It’s the same with Cardiff.

The other reality is that there’s a lot of uncertainty about the amount of Test Match cricket going forward. We’re blessed at the moment having seven home Tests per season. I don’t see that continuing because of the other international teams and their attitude towards Test cricket. So right now we’ve got nine grounds chasing seven Tests every year. If that goes down to six or even (God forbid) five it doesn’t stack up.

Hopefully there will be a lot more ODI cricket and international T20 cricket. So for those grounds that have invested, I’m not saying for a second that the ECB should pull the rug away but I think there are certain grounds suited to Test Match cricket and there are others that are best suited to ODI and T20 cricket.

DEC: So let’s look forward and assume you’ve been at Edgbaston for five years. How will you judge your success?

NS: Well, there’s half a dozen areas we can look at.

On the cricket side, I don’t think it’s a glib statement to say that we should be competing in all three forms of the game. I would like to think that we had won some silverware in each of those five years. That is a challenge we should set ourselves and what we should aspire to do.

We’ve got a target at the moment of having 40% of our players home grown. I’d like to see that increased to north of 50%. We’ve got a good academy, we’ve got a fantastic Academy Director in Paul Greetham, we’ve got great facilities with the Indoor School and the Portland Road Foundation Ground.

I’d also like to see the next generation of Warwickshire players playing for England, to replace Bell and Trott.

On the commercial side looking ahead five years, we’ll still have debt but I’d like to see a solid business that washes its face and more. We’ve got scope for growth in terms of domestic T20, in terms of our conference events and hospitality.

On the community side, I think we do some good work but I’d like us to be doing a lot more to address the opportunities and challenges within Birmingham and the role that cricket can play, particularly with the South Asian market, but also more generally. Birmingham, as I’m discovering from living here, is a wonderful city, but it has its challenges. I don’t think it’s glib to say that sport and cricket can help.

I’d like to have a strong pipeline of major match-day cricket. At the end of this year, we’ll go into discussion with the ECB about 2020 to 2022 so I would hope, on a five year timeframe, that we have another solid three to five years of international cricket lined up.

Then there is the venue, Edgbaston Stadium. In five years’ time, the development along the Pershore Road will be complete. I’d like to think we could have done something to upgrade the Raglan and the Priory stands. But that needs to be self-funded because we won’t take any more debt. And I really would like Edgbaston to be seen as the best international cricket ground in the world.

Finally, the people! I talked about how struck I was with the pride. We’ve got a fantastic bunch of people here. One of the features of working at events that have a finite deadline like the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup is that on a fixed day, everyone gets made redundant, which on the one hand is slightly alarming but you’ve got time to prepare for it.

But what gives me huge satisfaction is looking at what these people have gone on to do. With the Rugby World Cup, we’ve got people who were working for me there who are now working with other sports, other venues and I get a lot of pride from that. In five years’ time, not that I want to lose my team but I’d like to think that some of them will have evolved and grown their wings and gone on to do good things elsewhere in sport or in business or in the community.

DEC: You mentioned your experience with teams. Do you think that this means that you will be more hands-on with the cricket team than your predecessor?

NS: I’m pretty clear about that. Dougie Brown is the Director of cricket and he’s got a very good, experienced cricket management team. He’s got a good squad with a lot of experienced senior players. Currently, I probably spend more time with Dougie than any other of my direct reports but that’s because at this time of year, we’re talking a lot about the pre-season preparation. We’ve been re-vamping the changing rooms and that’s an area where I’ve had a bit of input. We’ve talked a lot about the culture and the values, maybe some of the things that weren’t so good at the end of last year. We’ve talked about the Indoor School plus how we use the Foundation Ground. My job is to create the right environment to give Dougie and the team the resources that they need to deliver on the pitch.

Part of the joy of doing a job like this is being close to a professional sports team and seeing them. So I was out in Dubai for a few days with the team, which was a good chance to get to know them. They’re a really good bunch of lads. I’ll always talk to them; encourage them but I wouldn’t for one second see myself getting involved in tactics or selection. It’s early days but we’ve struck up a good relationship. I’m learning from Dougie and he’s learning from me.

DEC: One thing you haven’t mentioned is your past involvement with Surrey and Guildford.

NS: Yes, Guildford’s my club, I’ve been involved there for about 10 to 15 years. I played a bit there, coached a bit, managed and ended up on the committee and was Chairman there for three years. The great thing about it is that we hosted the cricket festival there. So through that, I developed a close relationship with Surrey. Once a year, they moved into town and we ran the festival in partnership.

Then Surrey invited me to be part of their advisory group, so I know the Surrey guys and the set-up pretty well. I was Chairman of Guildford but also of the Festival Committee for a number of years, which was an absolute joy. In terms of enjoyment and satisfaction, it comes top of the list. That might seem strange because it’s been a great privilege to run the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup but the miracle of Guildford was really special, how with a bunch of volunteers we transformed a very nice but small ground into a venue for first-class cricket.

DEC: … and at a time when festival cricket has almost died.

NS: Yes and again I’m torn, because I’m a big fan of out ground cricket and I know a lot of the players are. They would prefer to play a four-day game at Guildford in front of 4-5,000 people rather than in front of 500 people at the Oval. But once again it comes down to the economics. The reality is that the Guildford Festival costs Surrey money and also costs the Council money to put it on, just because of the amount of infrastructure that needs to be brought in. I do fear for out ground cricket because I think it’s a very special thing. But it’s the economics of it and when we go from 16 to 14 Championship games a year, it will put even more pressure on it, which I think is a real sadness for the game.

DEC: What about the membership side of things at Warwickshire?

NS: We are going to have a thorough review of categories and prices this year ahead of next year, just because cricket’s changing. I think the concept of the all-in membership, that gives you access to all of the cricket, doesn’t necessarily appeal to everybody. We’ve got a bit of a mishmash of membership packages at the moment. On the one hand, that’s good because you can’t say one size fits all but we’ve just got too many moving parts.

One of the really nice things that we have done is that, at the end of January, when we had the deadline for the reduced membership fees, the players got on the phone to the members that hadn’t renewed. It was great, we had a whole line-up of players and I got on the phones as well. Just doing that for a couple of days, it struck me how complicated it is. So we said that we need to review it. And with T20, we’ve introduced the season pass – almost like a T20 season ticket, like rugby or football.

So our members are very important to us. We’ll hopefully firm up the new membership offerings in the next couple of months for next year. I hope that people will respond to that positively. It’s not an excuse for a price hike, more to ensure that people get what they want and pay a fair price for it.

I met members at the carol service, which is another really nice tradition; met them at the Members’ nets, another great event and at the AGM. I’ve had my ear bent by a number of people but it’s all with an underlying passion and an absolute love for the Club. It’s really strong, unbelievable, which is something that we need to build on.

DEC: Finally, are there any other insights you can offer us into Neil Snowball? For example, as a player, were you a good cricketer?

NS: Very average! Very enthusiastic, but my talent didn’t quite match my enthusiasm. I love the game. I still play the odd game but unfortunately, because of a combination of rugby and cricket, I’ve smashed up both shoulders so I can’t bowl. I did try to re-make myself as a wicket-keeper a couple of years ago, but that was relatively short-lived.

By the way, it’s my 50th birthday today so that’s my first legitimate half-century!

DEC: Thank you, Neil – and happy birthday!

 

The Restructuring of County Cricket in 2017

Emma Carter has outlined the changes that will take effect in 2017 here.

There will be a reduction of County Championship matches from 16 to 14 per team. The top division will be reduced to eight teams, with the remaining ten teams in the second division. NatWest T20 Blast matches will be played in two blocks in July and August, ending with a finals day as at present. The Royal London Cup group matches will be played in April and May, with the final at Lord’s in July. The group winners will automatically qualify for the semi-finals whereas second and third-placed teams will contest quarter-finals

The Clubs Speak Out (or not)

How have the county clubs reacted to the changes? For the most part, it would be true to say that they have remained fairly tight-lipped. Most have simply repeated the ECB press release on their website, with no comment. Essex are a partial exception, in that they have come out in favour of the changes, albeit somewhat half-heartedly. “The club support the need to evolve cricket in this country,” says a spokesperson. “We await with interest the results of this change. As an ECB decision, it is our responsibility to implement the new structure as successfully as we can.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the changes.

Only two counties, Yorkshire and Warwickshire, have made any significant comments.

At Yorkshire, Director of Cricket Martyn Moxon takes a philosophical view of the changes. He admits that he would have preferred to stay with 16 Championship games but regards the reduction to 14 as inevitable. He dislikes the idea of a ten team second division. He also states that he would rather have not have had more T20 games and is concerned that, as far as possible, Friday nights should remain dedicated to T20. Overall, however, he accepts that a compromise of some sort was unavoidable. He ends with the wise comment: “if there had been an easy solution, it would have been done years ago.”

Warwickshire‘s new Chief Executive, Neil Snowball, has put his name to an official Club statement in which he broadly supports the changes. “A reduction from 16 to 14 Specsavers County Championship matches will undoubtedly reduce some of the pressure on the schedule and allow players to have better preparation and subsequently more recovery time between matches.

“We also welcome the return of the Royal London One-Day Cup to the early part of the season. Not only will it benefit the England team in preparing for the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2019, when both competitions will be hosted in England and Wales, but it will hopefully include more weekend fixtures and a greater opportunity for Members and supporters to watch high quality cricket.

“The Club has seen a huge surge in the popularity of T20 cricket in recent seasons and we are pleased to see that the majority of matches in 2017 will be played during the school summer holidays, which will make Birmingham Bears games even more accessible. We are also delighted to keep the West Midlands Derby against Worcestershire Rapids, whilst also keeping the quarter final stage and the very successful format of playing three fixtures on Finals Day at Edgbaston.”

He points out that, because of the changes, the Club is reviewing its Membership packages. There will also be a Membership Helpdesk at all matches.

The Fans Have Their Say

What about the fans? What do they have to say about the proposals? Not surprisingly, the various county forums have been busy. Because Yorkshire and Warwickshire are the only counties to have made any meaningful official comments, it is interesting to focus on what their fans are saying.

At Yorkshire, many of the fans are less philosophical than Martyn Moxon. One points out that T20 crowds are up massively after switching to a weekly pattern of fixtures. “So the powers that be switch back to a format that was unsuccessful.” There is also concern at the fact that two out of eight Division One Championship teams will be relegated. “A couple of rain-affected matches and you’re in the drop zone – nobody is safe.” Accepting that, as Moxon says, the outcome is inevitably a compromise, one fan opines: “there is only one group of people that win – that’s the players.”

At Warwickshire, there is disappointment on the fans’ forum at the loss of two Championship games. Echoing the Yorkshire fans, there is also concern that a quarter of Division One teams will be relegated each year and that this may lead to an overly defensive approach. But there is relief that the NatWest T20 Blast is (aside from the timing) unchanged, so that the matches against Worcestershire (Bears v Pears) will be retained and Finals Day, which has become the high point of the Edgbaston season, will still be a three-match extravaganza. The playing of T20 in blocks will, in the words of one fan, “test the pockets of the punters.”

Although the above is just a brief snapshot of a few of the views expressed, and many fans are maybe more likely to see the hole than the doughnut, it would still seem to be the case that the Clubs are putting a more positive gloss on the changes than the fans, whose level of dissatisfaction is not being echoed by the Clubs.

What do I think?

No doubt the fans will continue to debate the changes right into 2017 and beyond. Now it’s my turn.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 The Good

The proposal for the T20 competition to be split into two divisions has, thank goodness, been abandoned. Counties’ concerns about the loss of derby, and maybe even Derbyshire, matches seems to have carried the day.

The retention of T20 finals day in its current highly successful form is also to be applauded and it will be popular, especially with those who have been lucky enough to attend the expertly staged events at Edgbaston Stadium in the last couple of seasons.

Shifting the T20 competition so that more games are played in the school holidays, in order to attract new spectators, is also a worthy attempt to introduce more young people to the most accessible form of the game.

The Bad

Repackaging ideas that have been tried and failed, whilst abandoning those that have been more successful, is seldom a great strategy. Playing the T20 Blast in blocks is a return to a structure that demanded too much of fans’ money and time in too short a period. The comment from Colin Graves that “the [new] season is easier to follow” was surely more applicable to the regular Friday night T20 format, the format that has now been thrown out. It also ignores the vagaries of the English weather. A wet fortnight at the wrong time could ruin the competition.

In order to accommodate the shift in the timing of the T20 competition, the Royal London Cup will become the Cinderella contest, relegated to the chills of early season. Many potential participants will either be playing international cricket or stoking up their pension pot at the IPL in India. The aim of preparing players for 50 over international cricket will only work if grounds men pull off a miracle and manage to replicate, in the early English season, the kinds of pitches on which such contests are played around the world.

A second division of the County Championship in which counties do not all play each other home and away, looks messy. Depending on who plays their stronger rivals and who dodges them, it could make promotion outcomes palpably unfair.

The Ugly

Colin Graves states that county cricket has to be sustainable.

To be sure, professional cricket as a whole needs to be sustainable. But the idea that the money generated by international cricket and passed to the counties each year is no more than a hand-out is a dangerous distortion that does not become any truer with constant repetition.

The counties are the breeding and nurturing grounds for the players who will feed through into the higher levels. Without ECB money the counties would, for sure, be bankrupt. But without the flow of quality players from the counties into the national team, England would be unable to perform on the international stage and the ECB coffers would be empty.

It would be just as nonsensical for County Clubs to say that county second teams have to be financially sustainable or for parents to be lamenting the lack of chimney sweeping opportunities that might enable their young children to be self-sufficient. The relationship between the counties and the ECB is surely reciprocal and symbiotic. The failure of Mr Graves and the ECB to recognise this obvious, but maybe inconvenient, truth is an ugliness that lies beneath the detail of the changes that will take place in 2017.

There is also the equally ugly possibility that the ECB might not be wholly heartbroken if the 2017 changes didn’t produce positive results. A failure of the new format would fit in very nicely with the negotiations for a new television contract, due to take effect in 2020, when the broadcasters may well be pressing for a T20 city franchise competition. A further reduction of the County Championship to a mere ten games (with three divisions of six Clubs each) is already also being touted.

Conclusion

In life, with the possible exception of vending machines, change is inevitable; cricket, too, is subject to constant change. All we can do is wait and see what the effect of these particular reforms will be. History suggests that changes to County Cricket last about as long as Hollywood marriages. We must hope that, in one form or another, County Cricket, which began in a fully organised form in 1890, will survive for many more years despite the attempts of the authorities to improve it.

 

Lumb, Pietersen and Rashid star in the Big Bash

We’re roughly a third of the way through the fifth edition of the Big Bash League and county players are making headlines Down Under. Kevin Pietersen, Michael Lumb, Kumar Sangakkara and Glenn Maxwell are impressing the crowds with their experience and showmanship, while spinner Adil Rashid is having an excellent time in Adelaide.

The two Sydney teams are fighting it out at the top of the table and current champions Perth Scorchers are in fourth place with games in hand. Only Sydney Thunder are unbeaten at this stage, while Brisbane Heat is yet to take a win.

Here’s the run down of how your favourite county cricketers are performing so far. Information correct as of Tuesday 29th December.

Adelaide Strikers:

Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid is having a good run so far with Adelaide, who site third on the table. He took 2/27 in the defeat by Melbourne Stars, but was played a crucial role when his side travelled to Perth to meat the defending champions. Again taking two wickets, he removed the ever-dangerous Michael Carberry and local favourite Mitchell Marsh before either were able to really get moving. His spin seemed to confound the West coast lads and helped the Strikers to their first victory. In Adelaide’s second victory, Rashid put on 25 lower order runs against table-toppers Sydney Thunder, although he was less successful with the ball.

Brisbane Heat:

Despite a few good knocks with the bat, and those largely due to the power of Chris Lynn, Brisbane are yet to take a win in this year’s tournament. The BBL02 champions are missing Joe Burns and Brendan McCullum, because of their international duties.

Hobart Hurricanes:

Former Hampshire man George Bailey was the only batter to make any headway in Hobart’s drubbing by the Sydney Sixers at the SCG, reaching 62 before he ran out of partners. Hobart’s superstar, Surrey’s Kumar Sangakkara was expected to lead the way in Hobart’s run chase. Instead, he came out on the wrong side of some quality spin from Nathan Lyon and was removed first ball.

Sangakkara was able to redeem himself more than adequately in Hobart’s second match, however, making 43 off 35 balls and taking his side to 99/2 before he was removed. The Sri Lankan international may be getting on in years, but his quality shone through in this innings and his fluid style was a pleasure to watch with the bat. Bailey, having a good tournament so far, also made 40 runs as the Hurricanes took their first victory.

In their second victory, a high scoring affair against Brisbane Heat, Bailey and Sangakkara both added a few runs to the 198 total. Ultimately, however, both took a back seat to Dan Christian and his big sixes.

Melbourne Renegades:

The red Melbourne side has only played two matches to date, but former Yorkshire batter Aaron Finch is already showing us his explosive style. Chasing down a huge total against Brisbane at the Gabba, Finch lead the way with a big-hitting 65 off 45 balls. Former Northants man Cameron White added 55 runs and the two made a record partnership of 111 runs, the highest second wicket stand for the Renegades. In the course of the match, Finch became the first batter to reach 1000 runs in the Big Bash.

Finch only managed 13 runs in the Renegades second outing, this time against Sydney Sixers, but sometime Derbyshire man Nathan Rimmington took four wickets, including that of Michael Lumb who was having an excellent night.

Melbourne Stars:

Kevin Pietersen has reminded us yet again why the England and Surrey fans love him. Although he made just 22 in the loss to Adelaide, in the Stars’ second match his brilliance shone through both with the bat and in the field. Chasing down Thunder’s 178, which was largely the work of just one man, KP made 76 off 42 and took the chase down to the wire. Had he not been caught spinner Fawad Ahmed, the victory would’ve belonged to the red Melbourne side. Instead, Ahmed held on to the catch and Thunder took the win by just one run.

Pietersen missed out on the Stars’ third game, as he returned to the UK for the birth of his first daughter. He is expected to be back for the Melbourne derby on January 2nd.

Unable to really get runs on the board, Sussex’s Luke Wright hasn’t had a fantastic showing so far. Yorkshire’s Glenn Maxwell, on the other hand, has done well. Ever the showman, we’ve seen a couple of fine displays from the all-rounder including a pile of boundaries, important wickets and even a switch-hit. His two wickets against Sydney Thunder removed Mike Hussey and Shane Watson, potentially saving a lot of runs and keeping the target within reach.

Making up for the lack of KP against Sydney Sixers, in Stars’ only victory to date, Maxwell made a crucial half century that, along with 52 from Peter Handscomb, made up the bulk of the successful run chase.

Perth Scorchers:

Michael Carberry and David Willey have had a slow start to BBL05 with the bat, although Willey looked more at home with the ball in Perth’s first outing, at home to Adelaide. Northamptonshire’s favourite son showed why Yorkshire have snapped him up, removing the very powerful Jayawardene, although it was too late to prevent a Strikers victory.

Neither player was able to pick up their bat in the Scorchers’ second match, however, as the job was more than adequately done by Gloucestershire captain, Michael Klinger. After making 19 runs in the first match, Klinger made a belligerent 53* against Brisbane Heat in that second game to easily reach the target of 118.

The reigning champs have followed their annual tradition of losing their first game, then coming back rejuvenated with a quality bowling side ably supported by decent batting. Justin Langer has made this his recipe for success and the fantastic David Willey already looks to be fitting in nicely with both bat and ball.

Sydney Sixers:

Michael Lumb is an old hand at Big Bash cricket, but this season didn’t start out so well. He’s made a few runs, in Sixers’ first match at least, but has also been the subject of a dodgy LBW call and managed to drop an absolute sitter in the opening match.

Things have improved, however, and in the Sixers’ third outing we saw a Lumb that Notts fans would recognise. Opening the run chase, with a heft target of 173, Lumb made a brutal 35 ball 63, with five 6s in the mix. A big chase it may have been, but the victory looked almost assured when Lumb and Moises Henriques made 23 runs off the 13th over.

In the Sixers’ fourth match, and the most recent to date, Lumb looked just as powerful and the boundaries started fast but he only reached 15 before being lbw to Michael Beer in the third over.

The Sixers have played the most games so far and sit second in the table, with two wins and two losses. On paper they are the best side in the competition, but they have not won the title since BBL01.

Sydney Thunder:

He’s not been around much, due to his commitments to the Australian test side, but when he did appear Usman Khawaja made quite a show of himself. His one match was against Kevin Pietersen’s Melbourne Stars and could very well have been a Thunder loss despite Khawaja’s 109*.

In the end, it was a one run victory for the Sydney side and former Lancashire and Derbyshire batter Khawaja, with his test place in question, went back to the baggy green a happy man.

Thunder currently top the big bash table with three wins in three. They have a solid batting lineup, lead by the seemingly unstoppable Mike Hussey, and an experienced set of bowlers including Clint McKay and Jacques Kallis. It’s been a pretty ordinary showing from the Thunder in all Big Bash tournaments to date. Is this the year that other Sydney side takes the trophy?

Season 2016 fixtures released

Days away from the shortest day of the year, domestic cricket lovers have today received their annual reassurance that longer and warmer days are to come with the publication of the 2016 county fixtures.

The season begins on April 10th with three Championship matches in each of the two divisions.

Much interest will focus on the decisions of six visiting captains as to whether their side will bowl first. The rule change for 2016 means that the visitors can elect to bowl first and only if this opportunity is declined does a toss have to take place. This initiative, announced last week by the ECB, is intended to dissuade counties from preparing pitches which start damp on the first day (which often sees wickets tumbling to the seamers), thereby favouring their seamers at the expense of the development of spinners.

Three of the counties changing divisions feature in the first round of matches. Surrey start their return season to the top tier with a visit to Trent Bridge to face Nottinghamshire while in Division Two relegated clubs Sussex visit Northamptonshire and Worcestershire entertain Kent at New Road. Champions Yorkshire’s bid to secure a third successive County Championship title will begin with a match against Hampshire on 17 April at Headingley. This follows the champions’ visit to Abu Dhabi for the traditional four- day season opener against the MCC beginning on March 20th.

Once again the bulk of Championship matches are played in the early (April and the first half of May) and late (the second half of August and September) parts of the season when the weather is usually colder and damper, providing ammunition for those who argue that the structure of the domestic season militates against the development of English spin bowlers who favour drier, warmer conditions.

The season ends in late September: eight four- day matches beginning on September 20th, one of which sees Yorkshire visit Lord’s to play Middlesex, the only county to beat the White Rose county in 2015, in what could turn out to be a vital game.

The format of the T20 Blast remains unchanged from 2015 with two groups of nine counties, South and North- four quarter final ties played over four successive days in early August and the now traditional finals day on Saturday 20th August (earlier than 2015) at Edgbaston. Most of the matches take place on Friday evenings with Sunday afternoons also a popular slot.

The competition gets underway on May 20th with reigning champions Lancashire beginning their campaign on the following day when they entertain Derbyshire at the Emirates, Old Trafford. Evening starts, facilitated by the presence of floodlights at most grounds, mean that matches at out-grounds are at a premium once again, although Arundel, Cheltenham, Chesterfield, Richmond and Uxbridge feature on the list of venues.

The Royal London 50 over competition also remains in virtually the same format for 2015. There are two groups of nine counties (A and B) comprising the same teams as last season, quarter finals, semi finals and a final. Unlike last year, the group stage takes place in two separate time frames with the first batch of matches in the early part of June to be followed by a second in late July and early August. The quarter finals take place on August 17th and 18th, semi finals on 28th and 29th August and the Lord’s final on September 17th.

2015 Royal London Cup winners Gloucestershire begin the title defence with a local derby at Taunton against Somerset while beaten 2015 finalists Surrey play Kent at Beckenham. As with the T20 the majority of matches are to be played at counties’ headquarters although county traditionalists  will be pleased to note that Stanley Park, Blackpool, Radlett and Welbeck Colliery Cricket Club grounds are added to the list.

 

 

Women’s Big Bash should improve perception of women’s cricket

During the 2015 Women’s Ashes series, I saw someone tweet that the lunch break would be twenty minutes longer than usual so that the players had time to fix their hair.

Perhaps it was tongue-in-cheek but it was offensive nevertheless.

When Perth Now, an online news site based in Western Australia, reported that the Australian women players would miss out on a pay rise from a $70 million windfall Cricket Australia had landed, a lot of the reader comments on the piece were along the lines that women cricketers don’t generate any money so they don’t deserve any. One commenter actually said that women just like continually bleat about anything they can find to complain about.

In October, some friends and I watched a women’s 50-over game at the WACA. It was a steaming hot day, perfect Perth cricket weather, and yet we found ourselves five of around thirty spectators. Judging from the conversation around us, most of the others were friends or relatives of the players.

Two of my friends are members and regular attendees at the ground. They told us that when a woman’s T20 is on after the men’s game, the concessions close before it starts and the stands empty. Once they were even challenged by ground staff as to why they weren’t leaving, and had to explain that there was a second game on that evening. What chance does women’s cricket have if even ground staff don’t know the matches are taking place?

The fact is that women’s cricket divides people. In a few cases, it stems from sexism in sport, and as a female sports journalist I’ve experienced this first hand so don’t try to tell me it isn’t there, but mostly I think people just don’t get to see it very often. It’s poorly promoted, to the extent that even ground employees aren’t aware of games, and rarely given television or radio time.

Evidence that people do want to watch women’s cricket is in this year’s women’s ashes. The series was well promoted and it generated record crowds. Sky invested money and time into coverage of the series and saw some positive results.

Enter Cricket Australia. On Saturday, the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League kicks off in Melbourne. And this is not just a support act; the eight women’s teams are aligned with the eight men’s teams and their sponsors, meaning a solid financial base and, hopefully, automatic support from those who already follow the men’s version of the team.

At the launch of the WBBL in Sydney in July, CEO of Cricket Australia James Sutherland said: “We see T20 as the premium format of the women’s game and the WBBL is an exciting concept that will increase the promotion and exposure of women’s cricket.

“We want cricket to be the number one sport for girls and women in Australia and we believe that the WBBL can assist this goal by creating an inspiring visible pathway for the next generation of players, fans and volunteers.

“The WBBL will build on this foundation and will create a clear participation pathway for girls and their families, who are already engaged with cricket through the BBL.”

The governing body of Australian cricket has invested AU$600,000 into wages for the players and eight of the matches will broadcast free to air in Australia. In the UK, ITV4 is looking into showing some of the matches.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald after the WBBL launch in July, Australian cricketing legend and well-known advocate of professional women’s sport Ellyse Perry said:

“To set up what will probably be the premier women’s cricket competition in the world, to have it here in Australia and to see how much emphasis has been placed on it and how much has been invested into it is really wonderful.

“It’s exciting for the way forward, not just for women’s cricket, but for women’s sport.”

The competition starts on December fifth and is made up of the same eight teams across six states as the men’s competition. Seven English players are currently signed up to the tournament, which is creating some excitement.

England player and Sky Sports Columnist Kate Cross, has signed to play this winter with Brisbane Heat. Speaking to Sky in September, Cross joined Perry in expressing her excitement for women’s cricket:

“I’m very excited about signing for Brisbane Heat and am really looking forward to playing in the first ever Women’s Big Bash League.

“We are currently enjoying unprecedented times for women’s cricket, with increasing levels of professionalism, improving standards and a constantly growing profile.”

This is a fantastic time in women’s sport and hopefully it will change the views of those who give it no credence. There’s no doubt some of its critics are right when they say women’s cricket generates little money, but that will never change if governing bodies don’t invest in it. Well done to Cricket Australia for giving it a good push. Let’s hope this is the beginning of something big.

Along with Cross, six other England players will appear in the WBBL. Lauren Winfield will join Cross at Brisbane Heat, while Charlotte Edwards and Katherine Brunt will go West to appear for the Scorchers alongside former England player Nicky Shaw. Heather Knight has signed for Hobart Hurricanes, Sarah Taylor will play for Adelaide Strikers and Danielle Wyatt has signed for one of the two Melbourne side, the Renegades.

“I feel very lucky to finish this way” – Geraint Jones

With a long career behind him, including 15 seasons with Kent and an infamous catch at Edgbaston to win the 2005 Ashes series, it’s hard to believe that the dream career end for wicket-keeper Geraint Jones would be winning a domestic one day trophy with a small side he had joined only a season earlier. And yet, a dream ending it seems to have been.

After a long career at Canterbury, Jones was sent on loan to Gloucestershire in 2014 because their keeper Gareth Roderick had broken his finger. Finding himself still at Bristol despite Roderick’s recovery, Jones stopped keeping wicket for the club but maintained his spot in the batting line up.

In July, Jones announced his retirement from first class cricket and in September it was revealed that he would move on from the professional game and instead take up a role as master of cricket at a school in Essex. The final of the Royal London One-Day Cup would be his last professional match before retirement.

Coming to the final at Lord’s on Saturday as underdogs, Gloucestershire had been largely dismissed by the media as a one-man side – and that one man wasn’t Jones.

While Michael Klinger is the man that everyone thinks of as key to the Gloucestershire line up, and there’s no doubt that his contributions have been colossal, the experience of Jones is also important. Indeed, Klinger fell for a duck on the day and it was the veteran that walked away with a half-century.

Having lost wickets faster than they would’ve liked, including that of Klinger, only Jones, Roderick and man-of-the-match Jack Taylor really put any runs on the board. After the final wicket fell to a questionable LBW call on David Payne, there were only 220 runs for Surrey to chase. Nobody thought it would be enough, including Jones.

“I must admit half-time was very nervous. I was very nervous that we were maybe 15 or 20 runs shy, especially with Sangakkara the way he’s been playing,” Jones told the press after the match.

“But then, once we got into it, I knew the way our spinners have been bowling all summer was exceptional and the wicket was going to be good for them.”

It was the unlikeliest of victories for the rather inexperienced side, especially after losing their star man early, but it was also a fairytale ending for one of cricket’s longest serving representatives. A touching standing ovation as he left the field, having being bowled by a Jade Dernbach yorker, might’ve been a decent enough send-off but Jones never gave up on the win.

“It definitely crossed my mind just what it would mean, not only to myself but also to my teammates.” He said.

“It’s been a bit of a thing I’ve been saying to myself this last couple of weeks, since we got to the knock-out stages – just dare to dream and who knows?”

“It couldn’t have worked out better, to be honest.”

Jones was part of the 2005 Ashes squad that won the series for the first time in 19 years. In 2006 he became the world record holder for the most test innings without having made a duck. In all, Jones played 34 tests, made one test century and six half-centuries. Nevertheless, the domestic cup victory with Gloucestershire has satisfied him as much as any other.

“It ranks up there with any other win,” he said, “Any time you win a trophy it’s huge. I’ve come to Lord’s and lost with Kent in 2008 and I know that feeling so it’s right up the top, purely for the fact that I was able to contribute.”

“This group of Gloucester lads that I’ve played with have added more than I could put into words. They’ve just made my last few months of cricket so enjoyable.”

“I just feel very lucky to finish this way. Very few people get the chance to walk off and lift a trophy and look back on such a great day.”

“To be able to finish this way with such a group, that I’ve enjoyed and who’ve given me such energy back to cricket this summer, it’s a real pleasurable way to finish. I couldn’t have asked for more.”