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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.

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