Saturday, 24 June 2017

Whatever happened to the spirit of cricket?

Posted by Tony Hutton

I know cricket is only a game but.......... Sadly there have been a lot of buts floating about the cricket world during the last week or so. The media and social media have been full of stories which in many cases defy the imagination. Somehow it has been that sort of a season with controversy always in the headlines, particularly for that intrepid band - the followers of Yorkshire cricket, not to mention those of Durham who have been so harshly treated. Cricket seems to be getting even worse than politics and I have felt a rant coming on for some time.

I suppose we might start with the ongoing saga of the City T20 proposals to start appropriately, some might say, in the year 2020. The eminent magazine The Cricketer and it's editor Simon Hughes (also known as the analyst) produced in it's June edition a so called Debate on this thorny question. It seemed to me to have been heavily loaded towards those who thought it was a good thing together with a handful who were sceptical and even less who thought it was a bad thing. A more even handed approach might have been more helpful.

What really got under the skin of many of my friends, including my fellow blogger John Winn, was the following extracts from Simon Hughes own views. First 'The BBC Sport bosses' eyes glaze over when you mention the word 'county'. I thought they glazed over at the mention of the word 'cricket'.
Then the worst of all 'Well marketed and staged T20 (minimising laddishness) in decent venues will attract women and families and rejuvenate the game. The gains will be much greater than the losses of a few thousand disgruntled county fans.'

First question how do you minimise laddishness? Don't ask the football authorities. What is a decent venue? There aren't many of those left. How do you attract women and families to come and sit in the cold after nine o'clock at night to watch a game they don't understand? Finally as one of the many thousand of disgruntled county fans (I suppose he means members) you have already lost me and I suspect far more than just a few thousand.

With all that off my chest perhaps we can turn to the antics of the ECB and presumably the England team management and selectors. Why are these people taking every action they can to devalue the county championship in everything they do? I will not dwell on the subject of Johnny Bairstow and the refusal to allow this splendid cricketer to actually play the game. The total absence of all the country's leading cricketers not only devalues the county championship but it shows a great disrespect of the traditions and history of this splendid competition. which has produced all the greatest cricketers in England's longstanding achievements in Test cricket.

The latest fiasco surrounds the selection of the England Lions team for meaningless fixtures against a very weak South Africa A side. It had been announced with great fanfares that next weeks round of championship matches would contain all the England players, to experience pink ball cricket and floodlights, even though they are unlikely to be required at this time of year, but for one game only.
They would not be seen again by their counties for proper cricket for the rest of the season. Now we have the totally insane statement that players such as Gary Ballance of Yorkshire and Keaton Jennings of Durham will be allowed to play for two days only and then will be whisked away to play for the Lions.

Who dreams up these ideas and how do the counties re-act to them? Unfortunately the hierarchy at Yorkshire CCC are in a quandary. How can they complain about the actions of the ECB when the top man, Mr Colin Graves, has bankrolled them and saved them from financial extinction and whose family trust could pull the plug on them at any time. I am assured that the county's feelings have been expressed to ECB on numerous occasions but all I can say is not forcibly enough. I have seen Bairstow, Root and Adil Rashid grow up through the Yorkshire Academy system and hoped to spend my retirement watching them perform regularly for the county side. This seems unlikely ever to happen again. What a travesty, which I am convinced is the feeling of many more followers of the county game.

None of this may seem to be anything to do with my headline question, but I think it has. The whole traditions and spirit of the game are being undermined by all these things. The ECB and their predecessors have failed to market the county championship. I have campaigned for years for a match of the day type highlights programme on television. Also nothing has been done by the powers that be to halt the demise of proper reporting of the game in the national press.

Finally on a subject which has hit the headlines on social media in Yorkshire this week has believe it or not concerned a second team cup competition in the Bradford cricket league - The Priestley Shield. Pudsey St Lawrence 2nd XI were playing Brighouse 2nd XI and racked up a record score of well
over 500 with two players making double centuries. Brighouse batted for one ball, scored one run and then declared to forfeit the game.

What did not appear in early reports was the fact that Brighouse had only nine men, all Muslims who were fasting during Ramadan on one of the hottest days of the year. Publicity has been given to a record team score and a record individual score in the league. Apparently efforts were made to ask the home side to declare to make a proper game of it but this was refused. The whole matter, together with some allegations of crowd mis-behaviour, has been referred to the league committee. We await their ruling, but to me this whole story is against the spirit of cricket completely and any so called 'records' should be deleted.

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