Graeme Smith – Above and Beyond

Graeme Smith walked alone through the guard of honour, the applause of the crowd ringing in his ears, and came to the crease for one final time.

The master of the defiant fourth innings would be asked to lead his side to safety one final time and, as he has so often before, took guard, settled his considerable bulk over the bat, jutted out his chiselled chin, and stared back down the pitch, ready as always to take up the challenge.

Just a matter of months ago he had scored a famous 234 to lead his side to victory over Pakistan, yet he had been unable to recapture the feeling throughout this series, dominated by the guile of Harris and the blistering pace of Johnson.

Yet these were distant yesterdays and this was today and only the now would matter to a proud man with a slightly obdurate streak who might have forgotten his form temporarily but not his will to fight.

Harris bustles in and is immediately on the money with a ball that rises from a good length. Smith takes it high on the bat to successfully negotiate the over and to await the fury of Mitchell Johnson that was soon to come.

He only had to wait one ball as his partner takes the single – it’s time for his acid test against Johnson.

Over the years Biff had faced a fair few examinations. He never looked like a guy who would do well in them and yet his report card was one mostly filled with A’s, year after year after year.

One last test to complete and you could hear the sharp intake of breath from the crowd who were willing their hero to his fairy tale finish. Johnson’s arm comes over like a slingshot and the ball is up into his ribs in no time at all. Smith rides the bounces, gets the ball to ground, and scampers three runs.

The relief around the ground is palpable, their belief in their captain unshakeable, their hearts a flutter with admiration. Can Biff perform one final miracle?

Down the other end he watches as Harris traps Petersen in front to claim his 100th Test victim. The task has become harder yet the crowd will continue to believe in fairy tales and miracles – their mighty captain is still there.

Johnson hands his cap to the umpire and walks briskly to the top of his mark. Time almost stands still as he approaches the crease and then suddenly all is a blur.

Over comes the whiplash arm, the ball careening into Smith’s body. He tries to shuffle inside but can only meekly fend it to Doolan in close. Before you could return to your seat from the beer queue the career of one of South Africa’s finest was over.

Smith’s fight was over and it would be left to others to safeguard a mighty legacy against the marauding Australians. In the image of their captain, and with a nod to not so long ago Adelaide, you know they will fight to their last, and their record suggests they can not be written off no matter the odds.

Should they not succeed it will mark their first series defeat since 2009, a period during which they have remained at or near the top of the cricketing tree, having built a side that deserves every consideration as being among the finest of any era.

Far more than his runs, and there were many, this is the legacy that Graeme Craig Smith will leave to his nation, a man who at the tender age of just 22 took the reins of his national side for 109 of his 117 Tests and led them to the summit. No man has led his country in the Test arena on more occasions and none enjoyed more wins than the 52 his teams achieved.

Throughout a storied career he scored runs in all conditions, against all comers at the top of the order, in the process becoming the second most prolific opening batsman in Test history behind the legendary Sunil Gavaskar. To the eye Smith bore a striking similarity to the old Land Rovers so commonly seen on safari across the savannahs of his country – sturdy and powerful with little in the way of aesthetics, devoid of flash accoutrements but immensely reliable and uniquely equipped to handle all manner of going, staring down each challenge and robustly finding a way through. Their slogan, “Above and Beyond”, seems to sum Smith up rather well.

Smith’s journey saw him contribute over 9,000 runs at a high quality average of 48 with 27 centuries thrown in for good measure. Like everything he did it, his batting had a sense of meaning and purpose, each century a robust cornerstone of a victorious push or a successful rear guard stonewalling effort – none came in a losing cause, a symbol of his sheer will to win and ability to survive, and also an indication of the quality of his individual output.

He was always a man of function over form, substance over style with an insatiable will to win which, when this became impossible, drove a desperate determination to avoid defeat. His team contained better stylists, perhaps even better players, but all became imbued with his spirit and relentless desire to make the best of their talent, and a refusal to accept defeat or the impossibility of any challenge. Defeat, when it occasionally came, would be met by honest self-appraisal and learning from mistakes. The response would usually be emphatic and decisive with Smith often leading the charge.

He may not have been able to rouse himself to lead one last charge overnight in Cape Town but his spirit and example will be with the remaining batsmen on the final day as they fight to their last breath to avoid defeat. It is a spirit and attitude that will remain with them not just during the battle today but long after he departs the change room for the last time over the months and years to come.

His record will be about what his has done but his legacy will lie in the culture and team that he has built – something that will withstand the ravages of time and make a far more compelling case for greatness than his batting alone.

Welcome to the pantheon of greats Graeme Smith !

Until next time … that is stumps.

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The Fellows of February

It has been a truly remarkable summer for the ever-expanding army of marketing wunderkinds that seem to have stormed into occupation of the entire top floor of CA’s Jollimont headquarters.

The results of course are there for all to see with over one million people pouring through the gates to watch the dismantling of the hapless English tourists, a doubling of BBL attendances combined with a four-fold increase in ratings, and of course the rivers of gold that now flow down the stairwells courtesy of the bumper new TV rights deal and sponsorship bounty.

Now none of this could occur without the creative input of the ponytailed geniuses who masterminded such events as the spin-off of CA Digital Media, #AskBoof, #bullshit, the World’s Greatest Dress Up Party, lycra-clad trampolinists, and of course the piece de resistance, the giant mobile corporate edifice of the KFC Skybox where original recipe and VB reigned supreme.

But, with the end of the Australian summer at hand, and a brief hiatus until the baggy green tackle the Proteas in far away South Africa, the thorny question of just how to maintain the momentum now rears its ugly head.

Fans fear not because the team have been hard at work over the Christmas period to plan for such an eventuality and I can exclusively reveal that, in addition to the launch of the @ShaneRWatson twitter character, the team are proud to announce, and sell to you, the Fellows of February calendar.

That’s right, a calendar, available exclusively by retweets of CA Digital Media click-bait material !

Concerned that, amidst the blizzard of social media and promotions focussing on social frivolity rather than on-field happenings, CA may be losing core supporters the creative types started work on executing the plan in conjunction with none other than the Frank Drebin of selectors, the urbane John Inverarity.

Artfully conceived, the plan targeted the selection of 28 players to represent Australia in the international arena, with each earning the privilege of appearing as a daily pin-up accompanied by one of CA’s 19 commercial partners and 4 broadcasters, with the remaining spots available for a negotiable fee.

Having skilfully accomplished this wondrous feat of planning and talent management last month you can now grab your ‘exclusive’ and highly prized memento of a golden summer – just head to CA Digital Media and use the special hashtag #ILoveILoveACalendarBoy.

Until next time … that is stumps.

It’s Legs Eleven at the Souk

In a souk under the blazing Dubai sun a cacophony of raised voices and shouted demands cuts through the early morning silence as officials of Full member nations continue their unedifying daily haggling with the stall holders of the BCCI, ECB and CA around the future of the ICC and the structure of world cricket. It is a scene that has been seen often over the past week since formal meetings began to discuss the draft FC&A position paper, and each day has brought us fresh news of the latest peripheral accommodation sold in exchange for their vote.

In today’s latest update from the horse-trading at the souk we receive news of a fresh proposal to facilitate the possibility of top Associate members attaining Test status. You might recall that just a few short days ago that a promotion and relegation system was suggested under which there would be two tiers of Test cricket, one involving the top 8 Full members and a lower level that accommodated Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the top 6 Associate nations who would play in an Intercontinental Cup.

The winner of this competition would earn the right to challenge the lowest ranked nation from the top-tier for promotion to the top flight over a 4 match series with the victor being elevated, or remaining, in the top-tier – that is unless one of the bottom ranked teams were the rich merchants of the BCCI, ECB or CA who were unilaterally exempted from such market forces in order to protect their business interests and without whom it was argued the souk would fall into financial ruin.

As an encouragement for the development of cricket in leading Associate nations the proposal had some merit as well as providing continued incentive for those in the top flight to maintain and enhance standards. Naturally self-interest and the now familiar horse-trading at the souk saw the proposal quickly jettisoned given that the stall holders required the support of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to advance their broader financial agenda.

The latest negotiations have resulted in a new proposal that would provide the leading Associate nation with the opportunity to challenge the lowest ranked Test nation to a series, victory in which would award them Test status for the following four year period – naturally, given their previous accommodations, the stall holders have assured Full members that their Test status will not be affected regardless of the result. “Legs eleven” cries the bingo caller at the souk!

Again, it is not a bad proposal if the aim is to provide clearer pathways for leading Associates, but it remains eerily silent, as was its earlier incarnation, on the broader implications of such a decision.

The first, and most important, issue it ignores is the very clear link between Test status and Full membership of the ICC with all of the financial and voting rights it brings. As the ICC website makes clear in its Members Overview section:

“Full Members are the governing bodies for cricket of a country recognised by the ICC, or countries associated for cricket purposes, or a geographical area, from which representative teams are qualified to play official Test matches.”

It goes on to note in their section ICC Classification of Official Cricket (with effect from January 2014) that:

“Test matches are those which:

  1. a.      are played in accordance with the ICC Standard Test Match Playing Conditions and other ICC regulations pertaining to Test matches; and
  2. b.      are between:

                                            I.            teams selected by Full Members of the ICC as representatives of the Member Countries (Full Member Teams)

                                          II.            a Full Member and a composite team selected by the ICC as representative of the best players from the rest of the world … “

And yet under this proposal from the Dubai souk there appears to be no suggestion that should the top ranked Associate would attain Full member status should they defeat the bottom ranked Test nation. This should really come as no surprise given the narrowing of financial and governance power to the BCCI, ECB and CA articulated even under the latest modification of the FC&A proposal – after all such status would create an additional, albeit much disembodied, voice and vote at the ICC table, not to mention reducing the distributions (after Contribution Cost) to each Full member by around $5.7m over the next 8 rights year cycle based on realistic ICC revenue projections of $2.5b.

This is the real elephant in the room – Test status confers Full membership rights and it does so because those that attain it meet a set of criteria (see here for details) that demonstrate their financial stability, the sustainability and strength of cricket in their nation or region, and their ability to grow the game. In return they are entitled to a greater share of ICC revenue and decision-making power as a Full member.

It is clear that historically this criteria has not always been consistently applied by the present incarnation of the ICC, Bangladesh for example had neither a FC structure at the time of their introduction or a sustained period of dominance at lower levels. Nor does it appear that members are regularly reviewed against it as Zimbabwe lurch from one disaster to another over the past decade as a corrupt government and compliant cricket administration burn piles of ICC cash and reduce player numbers and programmes to the point where have been unable to afford to participate in Test cricket and pay their players on several occasions.

But past failings of governance should not mean that such criteria are not relevant into the future. If the new proposal emanating from the souk is adopted, Associates can attain Test status without the need to meet a set of criteria that, if sensibly and objectively measured, ensures that they continue to invest in cricket infrastructure, participation and playing strength. Equally though, such participation may impede their ascension to Full membership – new nations have historically struggled to be immediately competitive and this may colour judgement over Full membership applications as the strength is no longer purely assessed against performance at lower levels.

In addition, if the FC&A document can be believed, the successful Associate would experience an additional financial impost by having to host unprofitable tours of which this position paper would have us believe there are many and without the additional ICC revenue derived from Full membership, and with no guarantees of bilateral series against the Big 3 would they really be better off?

And then of course, with potentially another Test nation added, there is the problematic question of how to create a realistic FTP with meaningful Test series length when scheduling issues and the lust for financial returns cannot see such a dream realised in the present day with less nations to accommodate.

Realistically, if it is desirable to ensure that “Test cricket remains competitive and relevant” and have each nation play each other on a home and away basis every four years with each series having a minimum of 3 Tests, it is hard to find a way in which this could work with more than 9 teams given that this would result in each playing 6 to 8 Tests each domestic summer – after all it is hard to have a fair and realistic ranking system without a workable FTP.

A greater number of teams will simply result in either more meaningless two Test series, or less frequent (or potentially no) bilateral tours to smaller Full members from the largest three nations which would further erode the already fragile financial position of many given the almost certain introduction of the Contribution Cost model over the next rights cycle.

However, as Srini, Giles and Wally board their magic carpet en route to the Burj Al Arab, weary from another day of frenzied bargaining at the souk that brings them ever closer to their goal, you can rest assured that they will waste not one minute’s contemplation on such difficult issues – after all they are not particularly germane or helpful to their broader agenda.

Tomorrow will undoubtedly be another frantic day at the souk bringing more breathless news of new deals, alliances and accommodations but it is unlikely to supply the answer to this problem.

Until the market opens tomorrow … that is stumps.

The Beginning of the Reckoning

“This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless, by a supreme recovery of moral health … we arise again and take our stand for freedom …”

Winston Churchill uttered these words in the House of Commons in 1938, just a few days after the then British PM, Neville Chamberlain, stepped from plane clutching the now infamous Munich Agreement in his hand with the proud boast that “I have returned … with peace for our time”.

Perhaps we could substitute Chamberlain for Alan Isaac, the ICC Chairman who has just received a draft proposal, hatched in secret by the BCCI, ECB and CA under the auspices of a ‘working group’ of the ICC Finance and Commercial Affairs (FC&A) Committee, a report that seeks to “address the significant challenges to the viability of cricket” for an ICC that has “lost touch with the issues Members face in sustaining the growth of cricket in their markets”.

In return for greater control over the ICC and a greater share of its revenues this already powerful triumvirate assert that their plan will:

  • ensure that “Test cricket remains competitive and relevant”;
  • “re-energise nation versus nation cricket while recognising the permanent place in cricket for certain major domestic events”;
  • make “the financial position of a number of the Full, Associate and Affiliate members sustainable”;
  • ensure a “fair distribution of revenues, recognising the contribution of each member to the ICC both on and off the field”;
  • ensure “sufficient and appropriate support” for Associate and Affiliate members;
  • establish an idealstructure for the ICC; and
  • “streamline bilateral arrangements to ensure relevance to ICC events and the viability of the game in relevant markets”.

You could be forgiven for stretching the earlier historical allusion a little further and think of the institutions and finances of the ICC as a modern day Sudetenland with these three powerful boards as the Axis powers – the more acerbic among you might even be moved to attribute the monikers of Mein Fuhrer, Il Duce and Fimimaro Konoe to their leaders.

Perhaps this goes slightly too far, but it is certainly no exaggeration to say that the final outcome of discussions and negotiations over coming weeks will be of critical import to the game, not just in the immediate future, but likely for decades to come.

At stake is the “democratic character of the … Constitution … First they ask [people] to agree to the establishment of a protective system including taxes … and secondly they ask that the Lords shall be granted not merely the veto they have used so freely over legislation but a hereditary veto over finance as well”.

But, as the speaker Winston Churchill, went on to say over a century ago in a debate over extending the powers of the House of Lords, “it is not merely a question of rejection of the Budget … but the claim of a … Chamber over which you have no control, which may be civil to you if it likes, but which if it chooses to cut up rusty is altogether beyond the reach of your remonstrations … They are matters of vital and striking importance …”

Churchill could just as easily have been commenting on the FC&A draft proposal that, when stripped of its shiny facade, seeks to concentrate the powers and revenues of the ICC into the hands of its authors via the introduction of an all-powerful new Executive Committee (ExCo) and the concept of a Contribution Cost that would be applied against all ICC revenue, essentially providing an exceptionally uneven commission structure to Full members.

The proposed ExCo would consist of a permanent representative from each of the BCCI, ECB and CA together with a representative from one other Full member nation, with the wide remit of being the sole recommendation committee to the ICC Board on all constitutional, personnel, integrity, ethics, development, nomination and revenue distribution matters.

Effectively, proposals from any of the other 8 ICC committees will require ExCo support before they are presented to the Board, consisting as it does of the 10 Full members, 3 Associates, CEO, Vice President and Chair.

It is unclear how the introduction of a committee that effectively concentrates decision making into the hands of just three ICC members and which actively restricts the diversity of voices and opinions heard by the Board remains consistent with the aim of the ‘working group’ in ensuring that “the ICC reverts to being a member-driven organisation; an organisation of the members and for the members”.

Equally baffling is the way in which the FC&A proposal seeks to fulfil its objectives of making ‘the financial position of a number of the Full, Associate and Affiliate members sustainable” and ensuring that Associate and Affiliate members receive “sufficient and appropriate support” by developing and advocating a Contribution Cost model that effectively takes millions of dollars of potential future income away from them and diverts it into the hands of the 3 wealthiest members, in particular the BCCI.

Although it is presented as a mechanism to recognise “the role of each Member in contributing to generating the ICC revenues required to sustain the game” and the “Member’s contribution to the ICC in terms of history and how the members has performed on the field over the past 20 years in both men and women competitions”, in reality it is nothing more than a glorified commission payment based on some mysterious, unseen formula that attributes income to its source in terms of the broadcast rights agreements.

Based on revised, and lower, budgets for ICC administration and event costs, a number of high level  projections are presented in the FC&A proposal, the detailed calculations of which can be found in Attachment 1 ICC.

In my opinion the most likely scenario is that the 2015-2023 rights cycle will deliver the ICC revenues of around $2.5b which represents a 66% increase over the 2007-2015 cycle despite two fewer events being held. Under this scenario, the proposed Contribution Cost model delivers the BCCI a $445.9m windfall compared with the current distribution methodology, while the ECB and CA reap $49.7m and $7.3m respectively.

The remaining 7 Full member nations each receive between $27m to $57m less revenue across this 8 year period under the proposed methodology, although the elimination of member subscriptions would save each between $7.2m to $9.6m. At the same time $200m in total is stripped from Associates and Affiliates, although this is likely partially offset by eliminating member subscriptions ($41m between 2007-15) and compensatory increases to the ICC events budget to fund A&A events ($53.5m funded from distributions between 2007-15).

It is proposed that half of the A&A total will be allocated to the top 6 Associates to accelerate their progress and development. No doubt this will please these nations greatly as it would represent a significant increase to their current level of ICC funding but it is impossible to escape the conclusion the growth and participation in the sport outside of the top 16 nations may be slowed due to lower funding.

The magnitude of the funding gap for each membership category will ultimately depend upon the ICC revenues attained and the scale of the disparities obviously increases in line with higher revenues – I have constructed a complete financial summary in Attachment 2 ICC.

What is clear is that other than redistributing revenue to those that need it least the introduction of the Contribution Cost serves no other ostensible purpose other than to appease the BCCI who have long grumbled about the lack of recognition, and presumably reward, they receive for generating a significant proportion of the revenues in world cricket, both at an ICC and bilateral level.

And what exactly has world cricket gained in return for recognising this special contribution? The answer is even less than they had before with the albeit flawed FTP to be scrapped in favour of bilateral arrangements that provide no assurance that India will even complete full tours of all Full member nations, tours which could offset the loss of ICC revenue distributions or even surpass this figure; no end to the farce of 2 Test series; and the loss of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe from the Test playing ranks.

For a proposal that, in the minds of some commentators, has been a necessary pact with the devil in order to save Test cricket it does very little to achieve that outcome, notwithstanding the creation of a Test Cricket Fund that only takes effect at the uppermost (in my mind) revenue point likely to be achieved in the next cycle, and the creation of a vehicle to enable top ranked Associates, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to return to the Test ranks via a promotion and relegation system that exempts the Big 3 in perpetuity from the chop.

However, even Churchill was a pragmatist, famously striking deals during times of crisis that would not otherwise be contemplated, and I can’t but help think that this, albeit significantly flawed FC&A proposal, allows an opportunity to create a workable path forward that:

  1. improves the financial stability of a number of Full member nations;
  2. provides a workable and binding FTP calendar that allows for a full programme of Test and ODI bilateral series on a home and away basis;
  3. provides meaningful bilateral Test series with context; and
  4. provides a clear pathway for advancement for the top level of Associate nations

Much of world cricket, whether it likes it or not, is dependent upon the revenues that India brings to the table, both at national and ICC levels, and India is the only nation, blessed as it is with a huge population (bigger than the other 9 Full members combined) and increasing wealth, that could successfully afford to adopt the American sporting model and place primacy on its domestic IPL competition over international contests given its latest bumper profit of approximately $61m USD.

Without the audience that India brings to bilateral contests, particularly in the Test arena, and to ICC contests, I fear that the game will become more unaffordable for an increasing number of nations and the growth of the game could stagnate in both new and existing regions. Already we are seeing many nations prioritise the scheduling of shorter forms of the game over Tests because they generate a greater return, especially when for some, visits by cricket’s Big 3 are either sporadic, truncated or do not happen at all.

The starting point for my way forward is a recognition that, as unpalatable as it may be, real change cannot occur without an accommodation of India’s position regarding revenue re-distribution but this does not require new committees like ExCo that seek to concentrate power in the hands of a few and silence the voices of other members, nor anything more than clearly agreed and monitored budgets and expense management protocols that maximise the return to all members and for which the ICC executive is accountable to the members for.

Clearly any proposal that means a reduction in the current funds received by members cannot be countenanced and on this basis I would propose to apply no Contribution Cost calculation applies to the $1.5b figure, representing as it does the current revenue and funding position. From that point forward I have adopted this methodology, albeit it at a lower and more sensible rate.

Based on the likely ICC revenue figure of $2.5b, the BCCI would now receive additional revenue of $312.1m compared to the current distribution methodology while the ECB and CA would receive $34.7m and $5.1m respectively. Distributions to the remaining 7 Full member nations would fall by between $19.3m to $40.2m (offset by $7.2m to $9.6m in membership fee savings) across this 8 year period, an improved result from the FC&A proposal and one which nonetheless delivers greater overall funding than received at present. Detailed revised calculations are provided in Attachment 3 ICC and Attachment 4 ICC.

In return all nations, including the BCCI, ECB and CA, will need to agree to a contractually binding FTP schedule that provides for home and away series (with a minimum of 3 Tests and 5 ODIs) between all Full members in each 4 year period , with the financial gain provided by consistent and regular tours by the Big 3, and India in particular, allowing the reduced ICC revenue distribution to be offset at worst.

This can only be achieved, using a basic capacity of 6 home Tests per summer, with a maximum of 9 teams and as such I would propose that Zimbabwe lose its full membership and Test status, the two in my mind being intrinsically linked. This 1/10th share of Full member funding should be reallocated equally between seed funding for the Test Cricket Fund prior to the $2.5b revenue threshold and the now top 7 Associates.

I realise this is a radical step but Zimbabwe have not been a competitive nation for almost a decade, have demonstrated for many reasons that they cannot manage their affairs or funding appropriately, and to be brutally honest have limited growth and revenue prospects compared to others based on their unstable political situation, small population and their medium-term economic prospects.

As proposed in the FC&A document, the top 7 Associates will play in an Intercontinental Cup with the top ranked nation earning the opportunity to challenge the 9th placed Test nation for promotion. This will provide a clear and relevant path for advancement of Associates but the outcome of the contest should also be linked to the attainment (or loss) of Full membership rights with no nations exempted – after all if the Big 3, with all the financial resources and infrastructure available to them, cannot avoid what would be a most unlikely relegation then they deserve their fate.

There have been countless pieces written on this proposal since it was unearthed a few days ago, far too many to mention individually, and this is but another. Each contribute to an understanding of today’s cricketing landscape and a rigorous examination of the issues attached to the proposal, but beyond that few offer a concrete way forward that is rooted in the reality of cricket’s present situation.

I have tried to do that here and whether you agree or disagree I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter – at the end of the day we all love the game and want it to prosper, even if we have different ways of achieving that end.

Until next time … that is stumps.

Happy Christmas (War is Over) – The Ashes are Won

Well a much-anticipated return clash has turned into something of an anti-climax as Australia battered England into Ashes oblivion to reclaim the famous Urn and deliver its long-suffering fans a decidedly early, and perhaps unexpected, Christmas present.

After the turmoil of the year that was in Australian cricket, with its disgraceful examples of off-field behaviour and player discipline, the appalling results and standard of cricket leading into the contest, and the sacking of a decent and amiable coach who presided over much of it, the ease of such a victory was certainly a great surprise.

And yet amidst the euphoria of victory we should not forget that it will not solve some of the systemic and underlying problems in Australian cricket. I’ll have more to say on that front in the new year, when I have time for more sober reflection after the celebrations.

Until then this will be my final post for a tumultuous 2013 as I make preparations for a trip to The G and my annual Christmas sojourn, this time to Sri Lanka where I hope the wonders of cable let me stay in touch with the games.

To end the year I have enlisted the help of John Lennon to pen an ode to the return of the urn and the memory of a few of the ghosts of Christmas past – I hope you enjoy it!

And so this is Christmas

The Ashes are won

After all of the turmoil

We’re leading three none

And so this is Christmas

Mitch back with a bang

After all of their hubris

English heads now hang

A very Merry Christmas

Forget the dark past

The homework forgotten

As Mitch just bowls fast

 

And so this is Christmas (war is over)

They did not get along (if you remember)

In change rooms and bar rooms (war is over)

Now they’re singing our song (if you remember)

And so Happy Christmas (war is over)

Remember Davey and Joe (if you remember)

Boof comes in for Mickey (war is over)

Who got told to go (if you remember)

Now we’re doing all right

 

A very Merry Christmas

Nathan belts out the song

On a cracked WACA wicket

Time to say we were wrong

 

And so this is Christmas (war is over)

Recall the Mohali four (if you remember)

The appalling behaviour (war is over)

From the man with top score (if you remember)

And so Happy Christmas (war is over)

The rotation is dead (if you remember)

With a ramp up of sledging (war is over)

To mess with their head (if you remember)

 

A very Merry Christmas

I hope you have fun

Watching in Melbourne and Sydney

To see us win it five none

 

War is over, and we’ve won it

War is over now

 

Happy Christmas

 

Thanks to everyone for reading and supporting my musings in 2013 and until next year … that is stumps.

 

Crossing the Rubicon – The BCCI’s Continued Grab For Power

In 49BC Julius Caesar stood with his troops on the northern bank of the Rubicon River, the geographic border between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul and Italy proper which was controlled by Rome and its allies.

He faced a decision of some historic, political and personal importance because under the laws of the day he, and his men, would be committing a capital offence by crossing the river into the territory of Rome with the certainty sparking armed conflict as a result.

After some reflection and contemplation Caesar is reported to have uttered “alea iacta est” or loosely translated, “the die is cast”, before setting out with his men across the river.

In doing so he shattered the convention of the age, flouted the law, and gave rise to the adage of “crossing the Rubicon” which has come to refer to any person or group committing themselves irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action, often called in the modern parlance “the point of no return”.

Cricket today faces a similar moment of historic significance with news filtering through of the BCCI’s latest attempt to assert its financial hegemony over much of the international cricket landscape via an audacious bid to secure a greater share of the spoils generated from ICC tournaments.

Under the current arrangements the ICC redistributes 75% of the profits from tournaments such as the Champions Trophy, World Cup and World T20 Cup to in equal measure to the 10 full member nations, with the remaining 25% allocated to funding the further development of the game among associate member nations.

Not satisfied by corrupting the Future Tours Programme with its malevolent vengeance against CSA and its CEO Haroon Lorgat, its unilateral refusal to implement the Wolfe Report and adopt DRS, and in ensuring the schedule of world cricket is bent to accommodate the needs of the IPL and the profits it generates for a small group of its cronies, members of the BCCI, led by its iron-fisted dictator, the infamous Narayanaswami Srinivasan, are now furiously lobbying that the vast Indian domestic audience and broadcast rights deals it generates entitle it to a larger share of the spoils.

Although it would appear to run completely counter to the interests of all other nations, history suggests that the financial hegemony the BCCI exercises over many of the full member nations, in particular Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, West Indies and Bangladesh, means the audacious cash grab has a realistic prospect of success, which will both further cement their hold and have serious implications for the growth of the game among associate member nations.

In 49BC the Roman consuls failed to take action and fled in fear of Caesar and his victory resulted in the law and convention of imperium never being enforced then or into the future.

Should other member nations and the rather toothless ICC fail to observe the lessons from history the consequences for the game, both for its future development and current strength, could be calamitous.

It is indeed a Rubicon moment for the game and should the members nations fail to recognise its long-term consequences I fear that Caesar’s words will be prophetic – alea iacta est, the die is cast.

Until next time … that is stumps.

It’s All Greek to Me – The Ostracism of Haroon Lorgat

It has been nearly six weeks since I brought you news of the shameful shenanigans and malevolent vengeance endangering India’s highly anticipated tour of South Africa – if you missed it the first time around have a look at How do you Like Them Crab Apples in the archive section.

There has been little to report since then aside from the deafening sounds of silence followed by an unnerving static of rumour and innuendo but, if recent media reports can be believed, it would appear that a deal to save the tour has finally been reached following a meeting between the BCCI’s infamous Narayanaswami Srinivasan and CSA’s Chairman, Chris Nenzani.

The reported tour of two Tests and either three T20I matches or three ODIs to be confirmed following the BCCI Board meeting on October 26 represents a financial disaster for CSA who stand to lose approximately $19.9m USD in revenue as a result of the shortened tour, but considerably less than the crippling $49.8m USD at risk had the tour not gone ahead at all.

Obviously cognisant of this financial catch-22, and perhaps even more acutely of the underlying reasons at the heart of the BCCI’s artfully crafted piece of bastardry, Nenzani extended more than an olive branch and a persuasive argument when he met Srinivasan last week in a desperate attempt to salvage the tour.

According to Cricinfo one of the conditions demanded in return for the tour proceeding was that the man at the centre of the enmity, Haroon Lorgat, have no part at all in it. However, once bitten and twice shy, Nenzani was also reported to have offered to “send Lorgat on long leave” and that CSA “would be working out a plan before the end of the tour to ensure Lorgat is not involved in future dealings with the BCCI”.

I suppose it isn’t quite the grovelling apology sought from a prostrate Haroon Lorgat, nor was it his complete removal, but it comes pretty close with Nenzani’s Faustian pact having more than a passing nod to ancient Greek history in its reintroduction of the practice of ostracism to high cricketing life.

Ostracism was introduced to ancient Athens in around 580BC as a response to almost a century of warring between rival noble families that saw murders and entire families being permanently banished from the city, leading in turn to a never-ending cycle of further retaliatory violence and counter expulsion.

At its heart ostracism transferred power from the noble families to the citizens of Athens who were given the power to decide who should go and who should stay via a vote whereby they would scratch the name of candidate for expulsion onto an ostracon or potsherd.  

If a candidate received more than 6,000 votes they were asked to leave Athens for ten years, after which they could return, and to encourage them to accept the decision peacefully they were permitted to retain their property and any income accumulated from it.

The system provided a clever means of ending the never-ending cycle of conflict between the noble elites of the city but it did not take long for it to be abused for political advantage, so much so that anyone targeted could be ostracised, whether they were a threat to the peacefulness of the city or not. Themistocles, the city’s leader from 493BC, was particularly adept in using the process for political advantage and he successfully cast a number of prominent rivals from the city, only to finally receive a taste of his own medicine around 470BC.

Obviously Chris Nenzani forgot to read the last few pages and missed seeing how the story ended!

But people in South Africa’s cricketing fraternity are starting to notice, with journalist Telford Vice reporting of a schism emerging among the board of CSA over the Nenzani’s handling of the matter with five members against his ‘compromise’ and six in support, including the Chairman himself.

No doubt many are asking how their CEO can be an effective representative and agent for South African cricket when he has been withdrawn from ever dealing with cricket’s most powerful group, the BCCI, presumably even at the ICC level?

Perhaps some are contemplating why, despite the obvious warnings of retribution from the BCCI, they appointed Lorgat in the first place?

Maybe they are wondering whether having made a stand for principle and independent governance only to suffer a loss of $19.9m USD as the BCCI extracts its artful revenge, how much face is lost or saved by Nenzani’s ostracism of Lorgat?

Or maybe they are wondering how cricket in South Africa can survive if the alternative is no tour at all and a further $30m USD drop in revenue, combined perhaps with their very own future ostracism from the lucrative ownership of the Champions League?

Is it really better to die on your feet than die on your knees? Or is that the other way around?

Perhaps it’s just all Greek to you, me and them?

Until next time….that is stumps.

How the West was Lost – Why did the WACA Really Lose its Crown ?

Due to the squeeze created by the 2015 World Cup, Australian fans face an unusually sparse fare of Test cricket in 2014/15 with just four Tests against the visiting Indians finding their way onto the crowded cricketing schedule.

The unfortunate upshot was that one of the nation’s traditional Test venues would miss out on the honour and financial benefit of hosting a match for the first time since the WACA’s debut in the 1970/71 season.

After considering submissions from the QLD, WA and SA state cricket associations, CA announced on Wednesday that the WACA would be the unlucky venue to miss out, a decision likely to cost the association between $3m and $5m according to its chief executive Christina Matthews.

It is also a decision likely to cost CA’s broadcast partner Channel Nine anywhere between $4.8m and $7.5m in lost prime-time advertising revenue[i], but true to their earlier boast, the needs of the broadcaster proved not to have sway over CA scheduling decisions.

CA’s decision is rooted in a desire to safeguard the best interests and health of the game along with some very sound commercial reasons, however they are not necessarily the ones that you might think.

In most quarters the decision has been presented as a simple financial one involving issues of attendances and ground capacity, but the facts suggest that the primary reasons lie elsewhere.

As a starting point let’s examine attendance and capacity data, excluding Ashes Tests, since the 2007/08 season as captured in the table below:

Adelaide Oval

Gabba

WACA

Total attendance[ii]

373,489

218,440

189,202[iii]

Days used[iv]

23

18

14

Attendance p/day

16,239

12,135

13,514

Capacity

36,000

42,000

22,000

% of capacity

45.11%

28.89%

61.43%

What this data clearly shows is that, outside of the Ashes, none of the venues comes close to filling its capacity. History suggests that this would still be the case against the Indians in 2014/15 and as such I don’t believe that capacity carries real significance in the decision-making process.

Surprisingly the table also shows that the Gabba is the worst attended of the venues over this period, despite Australia’s enviable 25 year unbeaten Test record at the venue. Even last year versus South Africa in a battle for the number one ranking, the average daily attendances were 15,393 at the WACA; 14,661 at Adelaide; and 12,522 at the Gabba.[v]

Given the strength of its attendances and South Australian state government’s $535m investment in its redevelopment, it should be fairly obvious that the Adelaide Oval ranked highest of the venues under consideration and that the decision became a shoot out between the Gabba and the WACA.

If the decision was really just all about attendances and capacity, Perth might have emerged as a narrow victor, but there were also other factors at work.

Peter Lalor was one of the few journalists or commentators to suggest at the time the World Cup draw was announced that the WACA would be the venue to miss out, and today in The Australian newspaper, he revealed that QLD Cricket has experienced significant financial problems and had recently been forced to renegotiate terms to repay a rental debt it owed to the Gabba stadium.

Losing a Test is a significant financial hit to any state association due to the loss of gate receipts, but for QLD Cricket it would be even more calamitous for two reasons. The first is that unlike the WACA, they lease the Gabba and would likely have to pay compensation for failing to provide an expected fixture, and more importantly, they could not be compensated by additional ODI and T20I matches as the Gabba falls within the security lockdown zone created due to Brisbane’s hosting of the G20 summit.

This is the real driving force behind CA’s decision and on balance, taking all factors into account, they have made a call that is in the overall best interests of the game in a difficult set of circumstances, and they should be congratulated for it – albeit that their explanation requires further elaboration.

At the same time there is an intriguing subtext behind all of this.

As cricket in Australia becomes increasingly corporatised the present drama could provide a glimpse into a future where CA adopt a similar approach to the ECB’s and have pre-qualified venues apply based on a range of criteria for the right to host international matches.

In an era where drop-in pitches have allowed greater diversity in use for traditional cricket venues, they also enable other venues, such as Stadium Australia in Sydney and Patterson’s Stadium in Perth, the opportunity to leverage their superior facilities or capacity to wrest games away from traditional venues.

In particular this is a concern for the WACA, especially with regards to capacity and media facilities, and perhaps it will provide a much-needed catalyst towards commencing work on a long-discussed and mooted redevelopment of the ground.

However, there is also a message for the good people of Brisbane. You have a great ground with great facilities that provides an excellent starting point for the summer of cricket but these natural advantages might mean little if you don’t start getting to the Tests in greater numbers outside Ashes years.

I may be wrong but I sense at least some of you can foresee the possibility of such a future – in any event don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Until next time….that is stumps.

 

 

 


[i] Based on prime time rate of $25,000 per 30 sec slot as per Channel Nine rate card. Calculations based on 38 slots per last session (conservative) and 12 min p/hour advertising component (aggressive). All analysis based on a session of 2.5 hours duration.

[ii] Attendance figures sourced from state annual reports, Cricinfo and Aus Stadiums. Last day figures excluded where minimal play.

[iii] Figures do not include day 4 of Aus vs SA in 2012 and no attendance figures for Aus vs Ind 2008 as no figures available through any sources

[iv] Exclude days rained out (Aus vs SA at Gabba in 2012), and last days where minimal play involved

[v] Refer to previous notes for exclusions and limitations

How do you Like Them Crab Apples? CSA’s Catch-22 With the BCCI

From the moment in July that CSA dared to defy the protests and solicitations of the BCCI by appointing the former CEO of the ICC, Haroon Lorgat, to their vacant CEO post you sensed this moment would come, an artfully executed act of revenge against a Board that refused to kowtow to their unreasonable interference, and a man who had famously clashed with them on several issues including the Future Tours Programme, DRS, and the Wolfe Report into governance.

In July CSA announced a tour by India comprising of 2 T20 internationals, 7 one-day internationals and 3 Tests commencing on 21 November and finishing on 19 January, providing a financial bonanza for CSA and a much anticipated contest for their fans.

Sadly this mouth-watering contest appears set to be greatly curtailed with media reports emerging from the recent BCCI Working Committee suggesting that the BCCI will now present CSA with a much slimmer proposed itinerary of 2 Tests, 3 one-day internationals and just 2 Tests in a move that will cost CSA approximately $14.7m USD according to respected South African commentator Neil Manthorp.

Cricinfo reported an (always) unnamed BCCI official as saying:

“Our priority is to look after the interests of our players and the Board … And such a long tour wasn’t viable from either perspective. We need to space out tours so that cricketers get much needed breaks between them”.

Seemingly nothing wrong with that right? Well, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words and it is in their actions that the BCCI reveals its malevolent thirst for revenge.

Following their recent meeting the BCCI Working Committee confirmed a tour of New Zealand starting on 19 January comprising 5 one-day internationals and 2 Tests, while also offering a new and unexpected invitation to the West Indies to tour in November for what has now been confirmed as a series of 3 one-day internationals and 2 Tests, a tour that can only commence after the ODI series against Australia concludes on 2 November.

So I ask you dear reader, are such actions consistent with the comments of the unnamed BCCI official noted above in ensuring adequate rest periods for the players or is it more consistent with the actions of a group of individuals wishing to financially damage the interests of CSA and perhaps embarrass its newly appointed CEO?

Artfully the BCCI, who have stated that they had never agreed to the itinerary announced by CSA, find themselves in a position where they are unfortunately forced to offer an inferior counter-proposal to ensure that the tour goes ahead at all.

It is an act of bastardry artful in its elegance and execution, strangely reminiscent of a scene from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 where Orr tells Yossarian:

“I did it to protect my good reputation in case anyone ever caught me walking around with crab apples in my cheeks. With rubber balls in my hand I could deny there were crab apples in my cheeks. Every time someone asked me why I was walking around with crab apples in my cheeks, I’d just open my hands and show them it was rubber balls I was walking around with not crab apples, and that they were in my hands, not my cheeks.”

Well how do you like them crab apples Hoorat?

After all, as Heller goes on to note his fabulous critique of bureaucratic operation and reasoning:

“Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing”.

And the sad fact of the matter is that CSA can, and will, do very little in response to such a terrible and pernicious slight and the significant financial impact it will have on them as they are caught in a real life catch-22.

Perhaps they could refuse permission for their players to participate in the IPL, however the importance of this income to their players, plus the fact that they receive 10% of the player’s salaries as a participation bounty, makes it unlikely they would adopt such an act of principle.

Equally, it is almost unimaginable that, as some have postulated, they would withdraw their teams from participating in the Champions League tournament. After all CSA presently own 20% of the enterprise which, as reported in India Today, netted them $2.3m USD in profits in 2011 along with a share (together with CA) of $7.4m USD in participation fees.

Both areas provide significant and recurring income to CSA and perhaps, as a not so subtle reminder of this fact, reports are now strategically filtering through from those unnamed BCCI sources of rumours that the BCCI are considering terminating CSA’s ownership stake in the Champions League.

So how do you like them crab apples Hoorat?

Choose to withdraw permission for your teams and players to participate in the IPL and Champions League and you lose even more financially both over the short and longer term, or cancel the tour as a matter of principle and turn a financial disappointment into a disaster, with all possible suitable replacements already committed during this period.

It truly is a real life catch-22 isn’t it? Perhaps as Heller notes in his novel:

“…’it’s better to die on ones feet than live on one’s knees’, Nately retorted with triumphant and lofty conviction. ‘I guess you’ve heard that saying before’. ‘Yes, I certainly have’ mused the treacherous old man, smiling again. ‘But I’m afraid you have it backward. It is better to live on one’s feet than die on one’s knees. That is the way the saying goes’. ‘Are you sure?’ Nately asked with sober confusion. ‘It seems to make more sense my way’. ‘No, it makes more sense my way. Ask your friends.’

And so we ask the ICC and full-member Boards that very question – just don’t hold your breath waiting for a response.

After all, as Chaplain Tappmann came to realise:

“… in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalisation, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honour, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character”.

Until next time, that is stumps.

Requiem for a Dream – Australian Cricket on the Second Anniversary of the Argus Review

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of the much anticipated Argus Review of Australian cricket.

Written in the aftermath of successive Ashes defeats, both at home and away, it was heralded as a roadmap back to success for the national team in light of:

  • the Test team only winning 5 of its last 11 series, the majority of which came against lower ranked sides;
  • the ICC Test ranking of the team slipping from first to fifth;
  • the failure of the top 6 batsmen to consistently perform;
  • substandard bowling returns against leading teams with few bowlers beating a benchmark of 30 runs per wicket; and
  • the elimination of the ODI team in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup, the worst result since 1992.[i]

The panel identified several factors as central to this decline, namely:

  • poor performances by leading players;
  • poor basic skills of the players;
  • confusing selections;
  • inadequate succession planning;
  • format and scheduling of pathway competitions;
  • a need to retain experienced players in Grade cricket;
  • poor team culture; and
  • a lack of structural accountability for such issues and team performance in general[ii]

Two years on it is clear that, at least for now, the review has been an abject failure with the majority of key indicators and causes showing little by way of improvement:

  • the Test team is currently ranked fourth on the ICC Rankings and will fall to fifth should they be defeated at The Oval;
  • Australia have won 4 of 8 series , none against a higher ranked opponent at the time, while winning 12 of 28 Tests and losing 10;
  • the Test team have not tasted victory in its past 8 Tests, including 7 defeats;
  • only 5 of the 11 batsmen used average greater than 35 during this period;
  • the batting unit has failed to reach 250 in 13 separate completed innings;
  • the team is now on its third coach in less than 3 years;
  • the captain has withdrawn from his role as selector, recognising that, as was obvious at the time, such responsibility ran counter to his role in maintaining sustainable and trusting relationships with his players;
  • the ODI team were eliminated without winning a match at the Champions Trophy tournament and have won just 21 of 43 matches; and
  • 49 different players have represented Australia across all 3 formats of the game, including 30 in Tests.

In many ways the past two years remind me of the cult indie movie Requiem for a Dream where a motley collection of flawed and lonely characters fall into various forms of addiction which lead to them being imprisoned in a world of delusion and reckless desperation that is subsequently overtaken by their harsh reality.

Certainly there can be little doubt of the bleak reality currently facing Australian cricket, with a pervading stench of inevitable defeat hovering around it reminiscent of the dire days of the mid-1980s.

What follows is an attempt to break down some of the commonly held theories in an attempt to find discover who or what is to blame and whether there is any way to fix these matters.

Selection & Rotation

In the two years since the Argus Review, Australia have used 30 players in 28 Tests, a number higher than  all other full member nations (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh from the analysis).

A number of commentators have argued that this selection merry-go-round has been a significant factor behind Australia’s decline. However, an examination of results for all nations over this two year period does not show a strong correlation between selection consistency and success:

Nation Tests Played Players Used Loss % Ave Changes Per Test
New Zealand

20

26

55.00%

0.79

Sri Lanka

21

25

42.86%

0.70

Australia

28

30

35.71%

0.70

India

17

25

35.29%

0.88

West Indies

17

23

35.29%

0.75

England

24

21

29.17%

0.43

Pakistan

15

23

26.67%

0.86

South Africa

19

19

10.53%

0.44

Table 1 – Correlation between Team Success & Number of Players Used [iii]

Perhaps more interesting are the statistics before and after Australia’s epic draw against South Africa in Adelaide just 9 short months ago:

Performance   Category

Pre   Adelaide Nov 2012

Post   Adelaide Nov 2012

Matches

16

12

Wins

9

3

Losses

2

8

Draws

5

1

Batting – ave/wkt

36.76

30.30

Bowling – ave/wkt

27.08

33.93

Centuries scored

22

5

5WI taken

11

9

Sub 200 batting totals

3

4

200-250 batting totals

1

5

Table 2 – Comparison of Team Performance Indicators Pre & Post Adelaide Test Nov 2012[iv]

Coming into the Perth Test match Australia were just a solitary victory away from claiming the ICC number one Test Ranking and had enjoyed the better of both the earlier drawn contests. Amazingly, in Ricky Ponting’s final Test, and with the prospect of far easier assignments ahead against Sri Lanka, Australia’s selectors chose an entirely different seam bowling attack from the previous Test and were rewarded by South Africa romping to a comprehensive victory.

It was the first significant manifestation of the infamous ‘informed player management’ policy and marked a significant departure in building a strong team performance culture.

Indeed it would not be too harsh to say that it was the day that Australia went to a gun fight and forgot to bring any bullets.

Since that watershed moment the team’s performance both on and off the field has gone into freefall barring a brief respite at home against the hopelessly outgunned Sri Lankans. The happenings at Perth sent a message that performance was not the sole criteria for selection – indeed excellence could be rewarded by a match on the sideline, while no performance of note was needed to force one’s way into the line up.

If you think this is too strong a critique consider for a moment the following examples.

Mitchell Starc captured five wickets in the second innings at Hobart against Sri Lanka only to be rewarded by having a childhood dream of playing in a Boxing Day Test ripped away under the spurious guise ‘injury prevention’. Nathan Lyon also captured career best figures of 7/94 against India in the final Test of that disastrous tour only to miss selection for Australia’s next two Tests in favour of a young man with just 10 FC matches to his credit.

Then there is the astonishing case of Rob Quiney who, despite his moderate Shield performances that summer, was selected to bat at number 3 against the might of the South Africans. Although he made perhaps the greatest 9 on debut in the history of the game, he was passed over for the better credentialed Phil Hughes for the Tests against the Sri Lankans. It emerged later that he was used as a crash test dummy  to insulate Hughes’ fragile confidence and technique from Steyn and co with the hope of parachuting him into a successful third coming as a Test batsman.

The stunning coup de grace came with the unfathomable selections of Glenn Maxwell and Xavier Doherty for the tour of India despite their lowly FC bowling records. Even more astonishingly they were actually preferred over the incumbent Nathan Lyon for a Test, despite his generally solid record and recent performances.

Is it any wonder then that the past nine months, in which Australia have added nine new players via the selection chocolate wheel, have seen a series of careworn and undisciplined performances on the field, particularly among the batsmen, and increasingly scandalous happenings off it?

A once successful culture has been broken and it will take time and steadfast resolve to fix it.

Thankfully Darren Lehmann has started talking a language and walking a talk in recent Tests that all players and supporters can understand, which is that runs and wickets are the only currency that matters, and that opportunities when granted must be taken.

The 4 P’s – Participation, Player Talent, Pitches and Pathways

Ed Smith, a far better writer than your humble correspondent, wrote of suggesting prior to the 2010/11 Ashes series that:

“the pillars of Australian excellence – club cricket, state cricket, and a hard-bitten unified cricketing culture that ran through their game at all levels – had crumbled. One firm push and the citadel might fall.”[v]

Russell Marks adopted a similar line in a recent Cricinfo piece examining the structural reasons behind Michael Clarke being the only world class batsman Australia has produced who was born after 1980.

At the heart of his theory is a belief that the pathways of Australian cricket, with their emphasis on early talent identification in age teams and bunches of players marching as one through these development groups, has created a soft underbelly and sense of entitlement that has been detrimental to maintaining high standards in FC and Test cricket.[vi]

Using as a reference point the 100 players selected in Australian U19 squads for the biennial World Cup tournament since 2000, let’s examine the success rate in turning these talented youngsters into hardened Test and FC cricketers:

U19 World Cup Player Conversion Rates

Chart 1 – Historical Conversion Rates of U19 World Cup Players to International & FC Cricket [vii]

Overall 20% of this group has played Test cricket, however with each passing year the conversion rate to International and FC cricket is declining.

It is not just a natural lag factor. Given that historically most of these players will make their FC debut within two years of this event, the following chart demonstrates declining quality as measured by an annualised average number of matches per player (across the total population):

Annualised FC & International Appearance by U19 Reps

Chart 2 – Annualised International & FC Appearances for U19 World Cup Representatives by year of Representation[viii]

A full list of representatives and statistics appears here (Australian U19 World Cup Teams Analysis).

The declining standard of players emerging from established pathways is also impacting on the overall quality of FC cricket in Australia, especially when coupled with a spectacular own-goal by CA’s administrators in creating the Futures League in 2009.

For the uninitiated, The Futures League was created to replace the old 2nd XI state format. Driven largely by a belief that the current structure was inhibiting the development and pathways for talented 19 to 23 year olds, it introduced shortened 3 day matches with a maximum of 96 overs for each first innings and 48 overs for each second innings.

Following the Argus Review and the negative opinions expressed during its consultation process[ix], Cricket Australia made significant changes to the format of the competition in 2011 by reverting to a four day format, removing the overs restrictions, and increasing the number of players aged over 23 from three to six.

Nonetheless, as former FC players Dirk Nannes and Theo Doropoulos have argued in recent articles, with vocal support from many current players on Twitter, the damage was, and continues to be done.

The creation of the Futures League has caused a significant deterioration in the standard of the Sheffield Shield as preparation for Test cricket by creating an artificial experience gap as younger players are expected to develop in a cosseted microcosm bearing little resemblance to the furnace of FC and International cricket without the hardened wisdom of senior players or dog-eat-dog competition for their place.[x]

All you proof you need is found in the dramatic deterioration in key performance metrics across the Sheffield Shield since the introduction of the Futures League in the 2009/10 season:

Shield Stats

Chart 3 – Key Sheffield Shield Performance Metrics by Season[xi]

It is all very well to identify talented youngsters and create pathways for their coaching and development, however history demonstrates that the greatest success comes when this is coupled with rigorous competition for places at every level.

CA should start the long road back to rebuilding the cricketing fabric and culture by immediately scrapping the Futures League and reverting back to a genuine 2nd XI competition where performances in Grade cricket dictate selection rather than a spurious quota system that the evidence shows has little impact in assisting the truly talented and determined find their way to the top echelons of the sport.

Pathways remain important however, especially as overall senior participation remains an issue for the game and its future success.

Recent CA Annual Reports [xii] loudly proclaim the success of their participation programmes, supported by their annual Census that demonstrate a growth in participation from 436,325 in 2002/03 to 880,291 participants in 2011/12.

They are impressive numbers but beneath the surface lies more sobering news for the future, at least for the senior men’s team, because the data shows that much of this growth is inflated by the inclusion of indoor cricket competitions, coupled with significant increases in the number of women and junior players.

No doubt this is welcome news for the suits and accountants at CA who trumpet such figures as barometers of success and tools in negotiating media rights and sponsorships via such insights as cricket participants are 8X more likely to attend a cricket match, and 4X more likely to watch a cricket match on television.[xiii]

However, analysis of the participation data over the past four years suggests that although great commercial success might be likely as a result, there is a gap between increased junior participation, fuelled by successful modified formats and timings, and declining senior and club numbers.

2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 2011/12
Type of Participation
Total Participants 604933 804100 850155 880291
Total Outdoor 604933 651871 662364 682109
Male 532348 564284 560019 560485
Female 72585 87587 102345 121624
11 a side club comps 309080 326813 317309 304085
Modified club comps 8434 10723 7608 9451
11 a side school comps 131511 133434 121174 106048
Modified school comps 85551 83545 88993 99196
in2CRICKET 70357 97356 127279 163329
Cricket clubs 4085 4010 3990 3820
Club & school teams 39151 41403 39441 38700
Indoor cricket N/A 152229 187791 198182
Senior N/A 113399 128771 136549
13 to 18 N/A 8954 26839 38445
5 to 12 N/A 8019 32181 23188

Table 3 – Cricket Participation Rates 2008 to 2012[xiv]

While CA have made excellent progress in boosting junior numbers these programmes will take some years to reach fruition and will require careful management because only by translating to senior participation can they ever viewed a success in pure cricketing, rather than commercial terms.

Before closing this examination of the 4P’s it is worth examining the role and impact of pitches on the decline in FC performance metrics. As Chart 3 above demonstrates, there has been only a marginal increase in draws in the Sheffield Shield over the past 3 years, so perhaps a generic condemnation of the standard of FC pitches is a little too simplistic cause of the decline.

Although they might not be greatly impacting the number of results in Sheffield Shield cricket, most would agree that pitches in Australia are changing in their character. Gone is the traditional pace and bounce of Perth, and the renowned turn of Adelaide and Sydney. Perhaps this is an unintended outcome of the amount of AFL played at major venues which allow reduced time for pitch preparation and lead to a greater preponderance of ‘drop-in’ wickets, as well as increased use of Grade standard pitches, especially in NSW.

As a result perhaps the performances of Cape Town and in India could be seen through the prism of younger players having little exposure to even moderately similar conditions at home.

It might perhaps be beneficial for CA to consider increasing the number of purpose-designed cricket venues, especially during the early months of the season to allow proper time to prepare more characteristic wickets at the major venues.

Accountability

At the end of the day it is inescapable, based on the empirical and anecdotal evidence, that Australian cricket has been in decline for many years and that the early results following the Argus Review sadly show no signs of this being reversed in the near future.

Some of the causes could have been avoided with better and more forward-thinking management, and indeed some were entirely self-inflicted as a result of decisions made by the CEO and the Board. Surprisingly few have yet called into question and demanded accountability from the CEO who has presided throughout the period and made many of the decisions or recommendations for change.

James Sutherland has done brilliantly in growing the game’s finances, both for its development and to better reward the players. Revenue from continuing operations (including gates, media rights and sponsors) has grown to $260m, cash reserves to fund future initiatives are growing, and junior participation is increasing strongly. The new domestic broadcast rights deal signed this year will add a further $43m per annum to this pot.

Yet, as Ricky Ponting simply states:

“… we must remember that the success of this business will be measured by the success of the national team.”[xv]

Surely should the unthinkable occur and Australia fail to regain the Ashes at home, the time must come for James Sutherland to resign, or be forced aside, from the post he has held since July 2001.

It would also provide an opportune moment to review the role and performance of Pat Howard as High Performance Manager. As the man in charge of the coach, captain, Chairman of the NSP, and Centre of Excellence Manager, he wields significant influence, and while some issues pre-date his tenure the recent examples of poor team behaviour, insipid performance, reported fractures within the team environment and culture have occurred on his watch.

One of the cornerstones of the Argus Report was the need for clear objectives and performance metrics for people to be held to account against. On any objective measure, Howard should be nervously anticipating a day of reckoning that must surely come and which might actually result in a well qualified cricket person such as Belinda Clark to assume his role.

Of course such apocalyptic measures will mean that Australia has lost the Ashes again. I desperately hope that this horror does not eventuate however given  the side  has not recorded a single International victory in any format since February, there is a very real prospect that by Sydney in 2014 Australia will not have tasted victory in 31 successive matches against full member nations.

In the movie that gives rise to the title of this piece, Requiem for a Dream, each character at the end of the movie curls into the foetal position and imagines their dream coming true. The movie ends with their successful selves reuniting on a television studio floor to the cheers of the crowd under the bright stage lights.

Unfortunately their reality was wretchedly different, much the same as our post-Argus present.

Anyway, happy second anniversary to you Don and your esteemed panel.

Until next time that is stumps.


[i] Australian Team Performance Review Summary Report (aka The Argus Review) p. 6

[ii] Australian Team Performance Review Summary Report (aka The Argus Review) pp. 8, 29

[iii] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries

[iv] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries

[v] Ed Smith – “Australia : hubris, despair, panic” – http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/654535.html

[vi] Russell Marks – “What Ails the Clarke Generation?” – http://www.espncricinfo.com/thestands/content/story/654727.html

[vii] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries and articles

[viii] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries and articles

[ix] Australian Team Performance Review Summary Report (aka The Argus Review) p. 28

[x] Australian Team Performance Review Summary Report (aka The Argus Review) pp. 28,29; Dirk Nannes – “The Experience Gap” – http://www.alloutcricket.com/blogs/comment/nannes-the-experience-gap ; Theo Doropoulos – http://theodrop.tumblr.com/

[xi] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries

[xii] CA Annual Reports 2010-2012

[xiii] Australian Cricket Roadshow – slide 20 (contained in 2011/12 CA Annual Report)

[xiv] National Cricket Census 2011/12 pp. 7-10; www.cricket.com.au/useful-links/australian-cricket-census

[xv] Daniel Brettig – “Ponting attacks CA’s BBL hype” – http://www.espncricinfo.com/the-ashes-2013/content/story/654537.html