Musings From The Padded Cell

Slogged To Death

The new cricket season is fast approaching as those of us reminding ageing bodies of the unique demands of this most maverick of games will testify, winter nets now in full swing.

And swing seems to be the order of the day. Not the mysterious and magical craft of swing bowling learnt over decades, passed down by learned figures.

Nowadays its the heaving of sticker laden bats the width of railway sleepers sending balls to all parts, intentionally or not, skill often seconded to brute force.

On renewing our club insurance recently, the explanation for a rise in premiums was in part due to the rise in the value of public liability claims. Balls are being hit further, often out of small grounds like ours, never to be seen again.

Hit a car or an expensive patio window and the bills can be eye watering. Yet modern bats enable those with even limited abilities the chance to wreak havoc.

The sports governing body – ECB – have recognised this manufactured imbalance between bat and ball, recommending some restrictions at the top level but that will take years to filter to the recreational game.

Meanwhile, even if perhaps an unintended consequence, big bats are a financial headache for already stretched club finances.

No such financial worries at the top of the game though.

This week the eight venues for the hoped for cash cow in 2020, a city based franchise competition, were announced.

The fact that we already have a successful T20 Blast competition seems incidental. Sky need airwaves filling in the brief weeks football takes a rest. Even the BBC have been wooed back but only to broadcast limited coverage.

The Golden Goose of the last few years is about to be battery farmed; for all their highly qualified people, the ECB have lost the grasp of basic supply and demand. Why?

Money now controls most sports, administrators singing to the broadcasters tune. Cricket has been largely hidden from view since 2005; what will a new generation make of it?

Why we play

What is certain is that what they watch will be dominated by the white ball format, either 20/20 or an increasingly marginalised fifty over game, the one we play most weekends.

Players are making choices too, eschewing the Holy Grail of test match cricket, with its ultimate demands of body and soul, for the cash dripping shorter slog format.

Yorkshire and England player Adil Rashid this week announced a desire only to play white ball cricket. He knows he can travel the globe earning a fortune and never again suffer frostbite being watched by three men and a dog in a four day county game.

Opinion will be divided here; some will want him turned out of the county on treasonous reasons: others will realise this is the modern day choice necessitated of the professional.

You can bet the house Yorkshire will try everything to hang on to him for two reasons.

Firstly, replacing him will be just as expensive and hard to do given he is a domestic international and in demand on the international T20 circus.

More complex is the reality that Rashid is the poster boy for Yorkshire’s efforts to tap into the local Asian inner city populations, in so doing polishing the ECB’s halo if at some financial cost.

The Suits cannot afford him to go and it is most likely his advisers know this.

You may well argue this simply reflects life. There are far more pressures on free time these days and games from as diverse as golf to snooker are having to adapt.

Those of us that continue to try to keep the game alive by encouraging kids to learn the numerous, often maddeningly complex and quirky skills demanded by this game, face an ever increasing challenge.

Caught between a void of almost no school cricket and the dominance of the slog format, how do we encourage them into a club format still as outdated as many a local administrator’s flat cap?

The game as I have known it will be a sepia tinted memory soon but I am unconvinced that the ECB’s obsession with one format will save it at grass roots level.

There are far too many of us, largely unheard and unknown, keeping this game alive down here in the basement.

Greed has clouded otherwise sane minds to the detriment of this most English of games.


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