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Monday, 30 August 2010

Things we have learned from the Spot Fixing episode....

That none of the Pakistan team, if the One Day and T20 matches do happen, will walk out to the middle to the strains of "Fix You" by Coldplay.

On a serious note, I don't think anyone has yet come to terms with quite what has transpired in the Test match against Pakistan at Lords. However the real thing that is certain is that Stuart Broad, Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann and James Anderson have had excellent games that no-one will remember. Pakistan's demise will be attributed to their role in this scandal and not down to the brilliant batting and bowling that took place. For once, a story published in the News of the World actually looks fairly genuine. Maybe Freddie Starr really did eat the hamster after all.

Anyway, things we have learned from today:

1. That Afridi is honest. If all the rumours are true about events prior to today, then two months ago Afridi warned the Pakistan team management here that the Majeed brothers had links to match fixing, and with allegedly 7 of the tour party in their pocket, Afridi was marginalised and forced to retire. Presumably Afridi only believes in honest forms of cheating such as dancing on a length to rough up the pitch, or biting the ball to make it swing. These were freebies.

2. That the cheats have won. Presumably, because these were only allegations of spot fixing and corrruption, the test match carried on  to its inevitable conclusion. I gave Pakistan until 12 but they managed a few minutes more largely thanks to some inconsequential belligerence from Umer Akmal. If the test carried on as normal, then why was the post match ceremony moved indoors? The media were still there, so what did it achieve? For me it meant that England could not celebrate a series win and their individual achievements in this game in front of their fans. Those responsible for sullying the image of a still largely honest sport should have been made to go out and face up to the cricketing public and take in the crowd's reaction. How typical and spineless of the games powers that be to do this. To me it feels that they have acknowledged the problem but swerved the issue. Typical. Apparently the published reasons were those of security. Hmmm.

3. That sport is all about the little details. This is not just 3 No-Balls. What if Pietersen had chosen to have a wipe at the no-ball, and edged behind and was reprieved, rather than a legitimate ball? He may have gone on to hit a hundred, hit himself  into form, won England the test and gone to Australia with his Mojo re-discovered. Sport is all about the marginal decisions, the small incidents and the discussions and "what if" 's that happen afterwards. Of course this matters. Its test cricket between two countries for christ sakes. And anyone who interferes with its sanctity doesn't deserve to be anywhere near it.

4. That cricketers operate in a bubble. On Sunday morning KP hadn't even heard anything by 9a.m. Seriously, does he go and sleep on Mars? The travelling may explain some of his shitty batting form at the moment. Likewise, for a cricketer, aged 18 as he apparently is, for Mohammed Amir to believe that no-one would notice him bowl massive no-balls to make sure the umpire saw them is crazy. How many cameras are at the average test match these days? 

5. That everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed. If I walked into Ladbrokes and asked to place a bet on the third ball of the day to be a wide, they wouldn't take the bet. Instead I would be reported to the authorities. If some positives can be taken from this whole sorry episode, its that people have been reduced to trying to influence small trivial details rather than whole games. What I can't believe is that knowing this kind of thing has happened previously, people were still willing to bet on these small details, knowing that fixing and corruption were rife. if they didn't they do know and hopefully this sort of thing will diminish.

6. That we have a new phrase for Chocolate Fire-guard. From now on when I want to describe something as useless and ineffective I shall say "You're about as much use as the ICC's Anti Corruption and Security Unit". We learn here that several players from Pakistan have been under a cloud for sometime and have been on a watch list, yet nothing had been done. It takes a tabloid newspaper to launch a sting-type investigation to bring to light what had been going on, despite warnings and rumours. As I have said before, test cricket is in a parlous position and I would have thought the ICC would have taken action to investigate these rumours and take appropriate action and further protect what is widely agreed to be the premier form of the game.

To conclude, I'm sure that there are more revelations to come in the ensuing investigation. Thank goodness it has become a matter for the police and not just the cricketing authorities who have proved inept and unwilling to act effectively to eradicate corruption in cricket. Any player alleged of spot-fixing or having any kind of involvement must be immediately suspended pending investigation. Only then can we be sure that what we are watching is honest sporting endeavour and not some choreographed event to rival the WWE.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Who writes the Schedules?

I note with interest, in an ever changing cricketing landscape, the scheduling for next year for England's forthcoming games and I find it amazing yet again, the lack of insight and consideration given to Cricket by its own administrators.

Following the World Cup's 6 weeks of 50 Overs cricket in February to April, the England team will be playing another 10 ODI's in the English season, 2 less than this year but with only 2 T20 internationals, at Bristol and Manchester - one against Sril Lanka and India.

I never thought I would say this but with England being T20 champions and all that, and both Sri Lanka and India having a big T20 following and some talented players in that format, are the ECB not missing a big opportunity? After all, T20 games are a guaranteed packed house and can be scheduled to start at 5pm to catch post-work or corporate business. One singular game does not mean very much against either opponent and gives a mixed message considering the English domestic season now has eight weeks of T20 cricket, it seems scantily represented internationally.

This is especially true when you consider that the 50 over format has been killed domestically.

The bidding process and feeding frenzy between the counties to stage Tests is distasteful and doesn't benefit the England team or indeed the spectators – remember them? We now have a seven-test summer and nine grounds that could, or have staged test matches with the addition of the Rose Bowl. 7 into 9 doesn’t go, so the highest bidders will always win.

Next year Old Trafford only gets an ODI and T20I and Headingley only gets a solitary ODI. The North-West and Yorkshire is a cricketing hotbed, especially amongst the Asian community who show great interest in Asian teams playing (I'm not doing a Tebbit here, just stating facts.). Traditionally, Headingley and Old Trafford are also good grounds for England's seam and swing bowlers - are the ECB valuing money over using the home conditions? Could you ever see a situation where Australia don't stage a test at the MCG because Hobart or even the bloody Ballarat Oval have outbid them? Me neither.

This morning, the Chief Exec of MCC was on TMS (198LW, not this one and bemoaned the fact that Lords have "only" been awarded one test match for 2012 as opposed to two. Well, as per the maths above 7 into 9 doesn't go. This year and next there are three test matches in London and yet next year only one north of the Midlands, and that is in Chester-le-Street. Even with me living about as far south as you can get in the UK without getting wet, this seems unduly London-centric.

As the MCC guy stated, the bidding process has also meant that there is huge financial pressure on the counties to break even, and he was quoting ticket prices this morning of £60 upwards for a day of test match cricket and yet they were "disappointed" to still have 1500 seats available for today’s game against Pakistan and more seats across the weekend if you turn up. These are prices far out of reach of the casual viewer especially if you factor in travel, accommodation (if you are coming from Yorkshire to actually see some bloody test cricket) and food. With three tests to choose from in the capital, and potentially 15 days cricket starting at £60 each day is it any wonder they have spare seats? Test Match ticket pricing needs to reflect the times in which we live and simple supply and demand. There used to be waiting list for test tickets, and guaranteed full houses. When you have 1500 seats left unsold I say you have missed an opportunity.

 Of course, Lords and the MCC are missing the revenue they used to get each year from two packed houses witnessing the domestic knockout trophy finals. Remember them? They used to be the pinnacle of a county cricketer’s career. Can you imagine the FA ditching the FA cup and a Wembley final in favour of a 5-a-side tourney? Thought not. However, the removal of the knockout trophies and the complete car-wreck that the domestic schedule has become is another can of worms.

What the authorities fail to realise is the precarious position in which cricket, and specifically Test cricket sits. The ECB are doing everything they can I feel to make money in the short term and accelerate the decline. Cricket needs to grab the casual fan and make test matches accessible and affordable, not price them out of the market and extort more from the dying breed of fanatics reared on free-to-air TV coverage like myself.