Franchise Blind

The argument around a new ‘franchise based’ T20 tournament in England is an interesting one. I totally get the concept – it is to have a separate T20 tournament in England and Wales that draws its players from a pool of the best white ball merchants in the world, exposes young English players to top level competition and bows mainly to the Indian TV market – very similar to the Big Bash or Ram Slam in design – and therefore, as it draws its money from foreign markets, it can afford to have an element on free to air TV in the UK – exposure that is critical for the sport.

So on those fronts – I totally get it – but for everything else the ‘would-be’ organisers and proponents of the new tournament have totally ignored the fact of where it will be played and who will want to watch it; points which could ultimately make the positive elements redundant. 

There is the climate issue that needs to be factored in; it is much easier to draw support from a non-traditional cricket fan base when beer is flowing at 25 degrees on a summer evening, it is quite another when a thousand ‘Manchester Maximums fans’ are huddled under a stand sheltering from rain and a wind chill factor of about 4 degrees Celsius at Old Trafford. Then there is the tribal nature of the European sports fan which isn’t replicated so much elsewhere in the world. 

To that end, the attitude and make-up of the United Kingdom is just so different to the other countries where T20 city franchise cricket has been successful. In India and Australia, the big cities are the focal point for the area or region around them and there are few ‘missings’ from a franchise view, so you don’t have the situation here where some of the biggest cities that cricket is played in and supported (Sheffield, Liverpool, Leicester, Bradford, Hull,Gloucester, Swansea, Derby) will not only be without representative teams, their nearest franchise will be based in a city they traditionally have a big rivalry with. Added to that, big cricketing areas in the rest of the county game (Somerset, Worcester, Northampton and the large Essex, Surrey, Lancashire and Yorkshire towns for example) will similarly feel unrepresented and unable to support a ‘rival’ city or area. I can only think the ‘fans’ and audience for a new franchise will be drawn from the cities themselves – and sadly I’m not sure there is enough of a cricket audience without the other supporter elements to sustain this model.

So, a nice idea in principle, but I think it is unworkable and ultimately smacks of self-interested people blinded by cash, making decisions based on hope and wild assumptions. This is such a shame as, given more forward thought and less short termism when it comes to planning, marketing and exposure, county cricket has great potential. T20 blast ticket season ticket sales are already up 35% on last season and ticket sales have risen 64% in the last 4 years; the three way fight for the County Championship had county cricket trending on twitter; Lords and Headingly saw 5 figure crowds for a single day’s play and Scarborough, Cheltenham and Chesterfield Festivals saw Sold Out signs on the gates, as did the majority of the Northants, Essex and Somerset t20 games. Unfortunately, none of these teams or out ground supporters will be represented in an 8 team franchise.

There is a lot of appetite out there for the county game and to tap into that by, say, allowing half of the current televised T20 blast matches to be on free to air terrestrial TV could really build up a buzz around an already existing growing market and really secure the long term future of the game as our national summer sport.

Unfortunately, unloved City teams, featuring mercenary players playing at half empty test grounds in freezing conditions does not a spectacle make – and I really think the ‘City Franchise’ plan is doomed before it has begun. 

The upshot is -not only is it destined to be a failure for all of the above – it could mean it closes the door on a potential appetite for cricket on terrestrial TV for a long time – it certainly could do more harm than good for the wonderful sport of cricket in the UK.

Finally, it is not a coincidence that nearly all English cricket journalists who are not drawn from the ex-player pool are against this, as are the vast majority of supporters from both my personal experience and social media testimony. Yet the likes of Michael Vaughan seem to be at the forefront of championing this incentive, despite his Sheffield cricketing roots which you think would make him strongly agin a ‘Leeds’ based franchise team – confirmation (as if it was needed) that sport is driven by self-interest, rather than common sense and supporter appetite.

British franchise cricket. It can get lost.

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Flicking round the sports channels last night I was reminded that earlier, while listening to the excellent internet cricket radio station Guerilla Cricket’s coverage of England’s comedy T20 defeat, one of the regular contributers to the fine alternative cricket commentary service had reminded me that there was a test match on later that evening. I soon stumbled onto a scene of perfection. A beautiful, lush green oval bathed in sunshine, grass banks packed with people and 15 figures resplendant in white – New Zealand were taking on the Aussies in the second test at Christchurch. Whether you like the sport or not you can’t argue with the beauty of a scene like that. I was drawn in – test match cricket on a Friday night with a beer or two? 

Winning at life.

What made this even more captivating for me (apart from the scene of resplendant summer on my telly brightening up a cold winter’s evening) was the fact New Zealand were batting and this was Brendon McCullum’s last test. I have always had a soft spot for the Kiwis, mainly down to how they play the game; hard but fair, in great spirit but with no lack of skill and entertainment. This is driven mainly by McCullum. He is as maverick a batsman as any KP, Warner or Sehwag but without the machoism or ego. He epitomises all that is good about New Zealand cricket and won them many friends here last summer. In short, I am a big B Mac fan and, strangely for modern international sport, he is a rare breed who appears to be universally loved.

And so with New Zealand struggling to get the ball off the square, strangled by the Aussies’ new look accurate attack, McCullum came to the crease at 30 odd for 3. Given the now mandatory guard of honour by Piggy Smith’s motley crew, the atmosphere was intense and having seen his side struggle along on a green top at under 2 an over I wondered how B Mac would play this. I didn’t wonder for long.

Within his first few balls faced he had a thick edge over the slips for 4 followed by a booming drive down the ground. He then destroyed Mitch Marsh with a truly brutal over of proper cricket shots. While Kane Williamson trudged along at less than 0.2 runs per ball at one end on what was seemingly a Headingly track from the 70’s, B Mac speared the hapless Aussies to all parts on what appeared to magically turn into a Colombo road when he was on strike. Undoubted great sport in his last test, something that would be fun while it lasted but you felt his demise was just around the corner.

Williamson went. The brutish figure of Corey Anderson came to the crease to join in the wonderful spectator sport of Aussie slaughter. And then, just as we were dreaming of a possible century in Macullum’s last international game, the demise came, and credit to the Aussies, it was special. A full blooded cut off Lincolnshire’s own younger Pattinson was middled above a wide gully. Standing below it Mitch Marsh reacted and leapt, like a love child of Paul Collingwood and a wild river salmon, to pluck an extraordinary one handed catch, mid air, one handed behind him. But wait. Pattinson doesn’t seem to share the roaring enthusiasm of his team mates? Does he know something we don’t? 

I’m not sure what the best ever catch off a no ball was before last night but it is now the second best. The replay showed he had clearly overstepped and, like with everything McCullum seems to do, he had the most dramatic of reprieves. It was then you sensed the sporting gods were not just with him, they were having a good old laugh at Australia’s expense into the bargain. Well played sporting deities but bed at lunch was no longer an option for me.

Into the afternoon session and Aussie bowler after Aussie bowler was put to the sword with mainly glorious cricket shots. It started to become clear that not only could McCullum score a century in his last test – he could possibly break Viv Richard’s long standing and legendary fastest test hundred record.

And so the target was set. 18 needed off 7 balls to match the record. 6 balls to beat it. A very short Hazlewood bouncer and its down to 5 balls. Then, a pure slog for 6, a wonderful punch over mid on for four, a streaky top edge over the keeper for four – 96 no off 53 balls. It’s really on. This is really happening. Everyone watching – even the most chest beating, Fosters drinking, casually racist Aussie, would have been willing on history. 54th ball – Piggy places two crazy fly slips for the top edge pull. Ball in the slot, B Mac down the pitch, smashed over the top for four. Bedlam.

Never have I cheered as loud at home for a sporting event featuring teams I don’t actively support. A great of the game, a wonderful charachter of moral fibre who is universally respected and loved, scoring the fastest ever test century in his reitrement test in a New Zealand city still scarred by two earthquakes in this decade. Also breaking the record for most sixes hit in test matches and most consecutive tests into the bargain. A fairytale finish to such an extent that Hans Christian Anderson would have torn up the premise for being too fanciful. Pure sporting drama, a wonderful moment and – the icing on the cake – against the Aussies.

Given all that, the conditions and game situation (32/3) when B Mac came to the crease. It was probably one of the best and most remarkable pieces of sport I have watched. As a bonus the aforementioned Guerilla Cricket covered it, which meant no Danny Morrison on comms. Well worth staying up for.

And you know what. Despite all that, the Aussies are still in a decent position and could win the match. Exactly why test cricket is so wonderful.

Brendon McCullum. Bone Fide Legend.

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Low Ebb? What Low Ebb



Sport is a strange beast.

Stripped down to a bare level most sports have a pretty silly premise. From 22 people kicking around an air pocket, to a man chucking a small red ball at three bits of wood 22 yards away while another bloke tries to smack it as hard as he can, the worlds favourite past times are nothing if not quirky. It comes as a surprise to non sports fans that some people place great importance on such things; from supporters to participants, there is a major emotional investment into something so banal. Therein though lies the beauty of sport. Whether doing it for yourself, supporting your nation or just selecting the team in your favourite colour, we humans love competitiveness in any stupid format. So much so in fact that we often let our emotions and adrenaline get in the way of rational thought when dealing with those we are passionate about. With this in mind, I took an impassive look at the current state of English cricket.

Let’s not beat about the bush here, English cricket has gone through an absolutely shocking 9 months or so. Since Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell so nearly made it a 4 – 0 Ashes triumph at the Oval in September, things have gone from bad to worse for Cook and his boys. A 5 – 0 demolition back in Australia against the oldest enemy and horrendous one day defeats against the same opposition; final wicket partnerships and English collapses snatching defeat from the jaws of certain victories. The coach that got us to number 1 in the world resigned, our best batsman sacked, our most resilient batsman retired ill and our best bowler (the best spinner in world cricket) retired injured.

Add to that an embarrassing defeat, nay capitulation, to the Dutch in the T20 world cup and a first ever home series loss to Sri Lanka, the latter when we had a 100+ run lead after the first innings of the decider, and it is plain to see the headlines to England’s current problems. When looking at it like that, with the appointment of previous failed coaches, a new director of cricket who seems so out of his depth he needs armbands and a captain so bereft of form and apparent ideas it is not too big a stretch to surmise he has cost us this latest test series, it is easy to see why Giles Clarke was asked if English cricket was currently at its lowest ebb.

Certainly as a supporter the anger and disenchantment you feel at some of the performances, captaincy and decisions of the management in terms of personnel has certainly made it feel like the worst period to be an England cricket fan. With the raw emotion of defeat manifesting itself in the new world of social media – growing exponentially on this volatile medium – even the most mild-mannered of cricket followers are asking serious questions of Cook’s captaincy and the ECB’s decision makers. Indeed, at close of play on day four of the Headingley test, with England a pitiful 57/5 against an average Sri Lankan bowling attack, chasing an impossible 350 for victory, there was not a soul on this earth who did not think Alistair Cook was under severe pressure and in a position that was swiftly edging towards untenable.

However something happened. Cook rallied his troops and the players, showing the mental toughness and resolve that had so often deserted them recently, put in an almighty effort to nearly do the impossible and save the test match. The fact that they ultimately ended up losing with the penultimate ball of the game probably helped the feeling of sympathy rather than hate towards Cook and his team – Jimmy Anderson in tears during his post match interview exemplified this. It showed even the most seasoned of professionals care deeply about this unit of players – something that resonates with fans like nothing else, ‘they’ share our emotion.

The bottom line is still that England lose an entire home series to Sri Lanka for the first time ever. This is hot on the back of that Ashes and World T20 debacle, yet it doesn’t quite feel like New Zealand in ’99 or the many Ashes defeats from ’89 onwards – the fighting spirit and positivity of that 5th day in Leeds is just one of many bright spots for England since the end of a truly awful winter.

This is a side in transition, senior players have retired, rested or been sacked and since that Sydney test (inclusive) we have had 6 debutants and one returnee from the international wilderness. Within those matches we have seen us beat the eventual T20 champions, the best ever one day innings by an Englishman (a wicket keeper at that), test match hundreds for three of the new players, a resurgent Liam Plunkett bowling with pace and accuracy, a test match hat trick for Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson swinging the new ball at Lords more than he has done since Trent Bridge last summer and the return to form of Joe Root with a double hundred.

Yes it has been disappointing, yes at times senior bowlers have let us down, Cook’s captaincy has been conservative at best, match losing at worst, and the captain’s form is nothing short of abysmal. Wisden in years to come will show we have gone 8 tests without a win but there is something there, enough silver linings trying to break through this juggernaut of a cloud to make you feel this is far from England’s lowest ebb. Without wanting to bow to the sound byte of an ECB bigwig, this IS a transitional period for English cricket and while I do not personally think Cook and Moores have the required skills to be the best in the world at their respective roles, there are currently not many alternatives that scream out they are any better in the English game.

Once you take the raw emotion and anger of a supporter out of it and look beyond the results, there are enough positives mentioned above, enough fantastic individual performances since Sydney (with Ben Stokes to chuck in there too) for us to be able to look forward with more than the slightest bit of optimism for the future. Cook undoubtedly needs to get his form back and the new ball bowlers need to find their consistency as attack leaders. Monty needs to sort his head out or another front line spinner needs to step up to the plate but if all these things come together, along with the  development of England’s young lions, then next summer’s Ashes series may not be the daunting prospect many will be fearing.

England’s last day fight and Jimmy’s emotion showed, ironically, that if you take the raw emotion of being a supporter out of it, this England side is still hungry, still determined, still behind the captain 100% and still not far from being a very good cricket team.

Low ebb? What low ebb?  


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Fighting to be fit

It was about two years ago I think. Upon reaching the grand old age of 30 I first became aware of it and though I didn’t believe it at first there was no getting away from it, I was finally there. I had reached an age where eating and drinking what I wanted would push me beyond a previous upper limit of a 34 inch waist. The natural metabolism of youth had deserted me, ironically with an increasing love of deserts.

Sure, there had been times in my teen years and early student life where the discovery of beer and endless take aways had at times pushed my slight frame to podgyness, but never beyond a 34 inch waist! Also, back then, two months of healthy eating, cutting out beer, extra session at the gym and an extra game of footie, I would soon be back to fighting fitness.

Alas this was no longer the case, the combination of having to actually work hard for a decent living, settling down, having a beautiful little girl and seemingly drinking more wine as I got older took it’s toll. No time to excercise I told myself, you convince yourself that twenty minutes playing with your child in the garden, or even doing the hoovering constitites running a marathon and therefore no harm in a cake with your cup of tea as a treat. Well there was.

My personal Nadir came in a double whammy just after Christmas last year (I had a very good Christmas as the saying goes) upon my return to work. I had won an annual award for work and was invited to a pretty swanky lunch to collect it. Shock abound, I had already broached the waist barrier into a 36 and, post festivities, I was forced to buy suit trousers in (wait for it) a 38 inch waist.

While this was never ‘American Fat’ it was a wake up call and I needed to do something about it. The other pertinent part of that day, after the three course a la carte meal – which stood no chance in the face of me, a Chinese Buffet veteran – we had group pictures taken. Mine was taken next to a particularly ‘fat bastard of a fraud manager’ – to use a technical term – and I remember thinking similar at the time. Upon development of said photo it was clear I wasn’t far behind him unfortunatly. Things needed done.

So do something about it I have. Cut down on carbs, drastically cut down on portion size and snacking only on fruit, I thought, as in previous years, the weight would just fall off – I was wrong. It’s the post 30 way of life, if you want to enjoy the odd treat and vast quantities of beer or wine (and you surely must) then you must put the work in.

So a plan was drawn up. Running three times a week, football once a week and press ups on the non running days. Cycling will come later, the running after a literal slow start is up to two to three miles none stop. I feel confident, happier, fitter, more alert and even a better, more energetic dad as a result. The funniest thing about ‘having’ to excercise post 30 is it puts you off eating crap. Why should I flog my guts off for a three mile run, to put half the calories lost back on with a snickers? That snickers becomes a run in your mind, and I still fucking hate running!

So what of this? Well to date I am about a 33 inch waist, fitting into clothes I haven’t for two years and as above feeling better than ever. Though the work needs putting in, it is worth every moment and the reward you feel when you see a neck bone in the mirror that you had forgotten existed is tangiable.

The pay-off, well I suppose if I can do it anyone can. Get out there people, show some Olympian spirit, make Seb, Boris and the rest of the twats championing ‘Legacy’ proud and get yourselves fit. It will be the best thing you ever do.

Now where did I put that guilt free Rioja ( now that’s worth a run).

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Strauss, The Curse of Smith and a bit of Sporting Poetry.

It was the worst kept secret in sport. Almost from the moment the ECB announced on Tuesday evening the scheduling of today’s press conference, rumours abound of the reasons behind it. In these communicative prolifigate days of social media it does not take much smoke to create a wildfire and, with many respected cricket commentators adding fuel to the fire, it was generally expected that Andrew Strauss would be resigning the captaincy and hanging up his batting gloves come 12 noon. In a presser full of emotion and respect, so it came to pass.

So what of the test career? A century on his debut at Lords, winning back and the retaining the Ashes as captain, taking England to number one in the world and going full circle by appearing in his 100th (and final) test back at Lords, this seemed almost a perfect time for Strauss to end an undoubtadly fantastic career and take a rest from the second most important job in British Sport.

His respectful demeanor, gritty determination and undoubted standing within any dressing room he entered made Strauss a natural leader, the most quintessentially English member of ‘Team England’s’ South African imports. Someone who history will reflect kindly on due to the achievements listed above, however, a captain is only ever as good as his bowling attack and Strauss was blessed with some great ones. He certainly was a cautious captain and some may argue England would have done even better had Strauss been more ruthless. The fact remains England became number 1 under his stewardship and we hope The Chef can take this mantle and finish what Strauss started.

Whether he chooses to do this with one of the top 6 batsmen in the world is another point for another debate. I have no doubt the ‘KP incident’ had nothing to do with this decision but nevertheless, I just hope England use this chance to get Kevin Pietersen, faubles and all, back into the fold. Now that would be genius.

Three asides from all of this; it is the third home series with South Africa in a row which has seen England’s captain resign – the curse of Graeme Smith. Allastair Cook will be hoping we can stop the Saffers touring again for at least 5 years!

Secondly when you split captaincies between test and ODI teams it is not sustainable. Players have two different captaincy styles to reference and some will prefer one to the other, this has led to resignations in the past and I would not do it again.

Finally during Straussy’s first class career he took a grand total of three wickets. The first of these? A young South African plying his trade at Notts called Kevin……

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A Welcome of Sorts

‘All you good, good people, listen to me’ sang Embrace. I can neither sing, nor am I the member of a once popular Yorkshire based Beat Combo but I do share their sentiments above and so, in order to help everyone along on the much under-rated pastime of listening to me, I have started this blog thing up.

Now me and modern technology are not the easiest of bedfellows, so please do not expect fancy fonts, artistic photos and traverse backgrounds – the fact I have managed to set up this god forsaken thing should be seen as a mini victory – instead it will be purely the plain old written form of communication. A live link to my complex thought patterns centred mainly around cricket and occasionally around the misgivings of being an exiled Yorkshireman living in Belper, a cut-throat Derbyshire market town. I love it.

Hope you enjoy….

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