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

The First Australian Cricket Tour to England – A Look at the 1868 Aboriginal Team

There’s only one sleep to go until the start of The Ashes and I must confess to being a little like a young child excitedly waiting to spring Santa putting the presents under the tree.

It would be fair to say that I am keenly awaiting the start of this series and my mind has been in a state of hyperactivity, alternating between considering various approaches the teams might take towards victory, and remembering the great moments of the past.

Fondly I’ve remembered AB’s 1989 group, the catalyst for the revival of Australian cricket, the majesty of Terry Alderman, the drama of the Centenary Test, the great deeds of The Don, McCabe’s epic at the SCG, Warne’s raging against the dying light in 2005, the triumphant drubbing of the Old Enemy in 2006, and so many more.

Not so fondly, but equally well, my mind also turned to the Botham and Willis inspired miracle at Headingly in 1981, the gripping tension and unforgettable finish at Edgbaston in 2005, and the pain inflicted by a couple of openers 24 years apart in Chris Broad and Alistair Cook during their plunderings Down Under.

Of course no trip down memory lane can be considered complete without a visit to where things began, and so with my memory triggered by an exchange with a couple of guys on Twitter, I decided to have a look at the deeds of the first Australian team to tour England, the 1868 Aboriginal team.

In fact, a decade prior to the first official representative cricket tour of England, they were the first sporting team of any description to represent Australia overseas, a truly extraordinary happening given their legal and social status in the country at the time.

From the early 1860s there were reports of cricket matches being played between European settlers and Aboriginal stockmen on the cattle stations of western Victoria, games in which the Aborigines displayed great athleticism and aptitude for the game.

A series of matches were soon held with the intention of unearthing the strongest Aboriginal XI, and under the organisation of William Hayman, a station owner from Lake Wallace, a team was formed to play in a match held at the MCG beginning on Boxing Day 1866, one of, if not the earliest matches of the great Boxing Day tradition.

The team was coached and captained by Tom Wills, a well-known first class cricketer of the time and one of the pioneers of Australian Rules football, and the match attracted a crowd of between 8,000 and 10,000 spectators, depending upon which report can be believed.

Among the audience was an entrepreneur William Broughton-Gurnett, who saw the commercial opportunity the group presented and promptly contracted them to play matches in Sydney and Brisbane, followed by a tour to England.

As sometimes happened during the early era of cricket, the promoter embezzled some of the funds raised to finance the tour, which left the players destitute in Sydney with many also in poor health.

Charles Lawrence, a professional cricketer who remained in Australia after playing with the first English team to tour Down Under in 1861, took over the coaching and captaincy of the team and organised a number of benefit matches that enabled the players to return home in May 1867.

Soon after Lawrence arranged a tour of England for the team of 16 players plus himself. This group of pioneers are listed below (traditional names in brackets):

  • Charles Lawrence – captain/coach
  • Peter (Arrahmunyarrimun)
  • Sundown (Ballrinjarrimin)
  • Tiger (Bonnibarngeet)
  • Tommy Red Cap (Brimbunyah)
  • King Cole (Bripumyarrimin)
  • Harry Bullocky (Bullchanach)
  • Mosquito (Grongarrong)
  • Two Penny (Jarrawuk)
  • Dick-a-Dick (Jumgumjenanuke)
  • Jim Crow (Lyterjerbillijun)
  • Johnny Mullagh (Unaarrimin)
  • Johnny Cuzens (Yellanach)
  • Jeremy Tarpot (Murrumgunerrimin)
  • Lake Billy (Mijarrie)
  • Billy Officer (Cungewarrimin)
  • Harry Rose (Hingingairah)

After a three-month odyssey to the Mother Country via boat, the team arrived on 13 May, 1868. Coming not long following the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” the team’s arrival generated considerable public interest.

Unfortunately not all of it complimentary with The Times describing the tourists as “the conquered natives of a convict colony” before going on to decry them as “a travestie upon cricketing at Lords”. Nevertheless the matches were very well attended throughout with the first match at The Oval attracting a bumper crowd of 20,000.

Of course it was not all about the cricket with cultural demonstrations being an equally, if not more, important part of the attraction for the crowd.

Dressed in traditional white trousers, the team sported distinctive bright red shirts with accompanying blue sashes and different coloured caps to assist the public in identifying the players. The players also took along traditional tribal wear such as possum cloaks and feathers into which they would change at the conclusion of play to provide demonstrations of boomerang and spear throwing, with ‘Dick-a-Dick’ also using a narrow shield, or boammer, to parry away a hail of cricket balls thrown at him by teammates.

The undoubted star of the tour was Unaarrimin (‘Johnny Mullagh’) who captured an incredible 245 wickets at an average of around 10 in addition to scoring the most runs for the tour with 1,698 as well as its highest individual score of 94.

Crisscrossing an alien country for almost six months he helped his side achieve some impressive results as they won 14, lost 14 and drew 19 matches across a gruelling 47 match itinerary, the difficulty of which was noted by Sporting Life upon their departure when they wrote “no eleven has in one season ever played so many matches so successfully – never playing less than two matches in each week, and frequently three, bearing an amount of fatigue that now seems incredible”.

Sadly it should be noted that the arduous tour saw the death of Bripumyarrimin (‘King Cole’) while in England as well as serious illnesses to another two members of the team who returned home early.

However, despite these beginnings few Aborigines have followed in the footsteps of this ground-breaking group of men.

Jarrawuk (‘Two Penny’) moved to New South Wales and featured in one match for the colony against Victoria in 1870, while Unaarrimin (‘Johnny Mullagh’) played for a short time as a professional with the Melbourne Cricket Club and also representing Victoria against the touring English side in 1879, top scoring in the second innings despite batting towards the tail, a long way from his usual club position at number three.

Many of the other players were left to obscure futures and early deaths  following the conclusion of the tour, many being forced to live on reserves.

More significantly, in 1869 The Central Board for Aborigines, held that it was illegal to remove any Aborigine from Victoria without the approval of the Minister, a ruling which effectively greatly limited opportunities for Aboriginal players. Like Jarrawuk and Unaarrimin, many Aborigines continued to play the sport, but those with ability faced continued discrimination and obstruction by cricketing and government officialdom.

Two early instances involved ‘Alec Henry’ and ‘Jack Marsh’, both of whom were terrifyingly fast bowlers in the early 1900s with impressive wicket taking records for their respective states of Queensland and New South Wales.

Some excellent performances saw both mentioned at different times in connection with higher honours only for them to be strangely judged to be throwers by umpires from that point on, although in the case of ‘Jack Marsh’ this also involved the touring English team of 1902 steadfastly refuse to play against him if selected.

Almost thirty years later ‘Eddie Gilbert’ from Queensland suffered a similar fate despite being regarded as the fastest bowler in the country and famously bowling The Don for a duck in 1931. Like Henry he protested against his unfair treatment at the hands of umpires and like Henry, who was forcibly relocated from Brisbane for “defying authority”, Gilbert also suffered and was admitted to a mental asylum.

Even to the current day there are very few indigenous players involved with the game and certainly few who have attained first class honours, and in the entire history of the game only one has worn the famous Baggy Green – the wonderfully talented Jason Gillespie who will rank among our finest ever bowlers.

It is something worth remembering when sitting down to watch the opening session on Wednesday.

Until next time … that is stumps.

A Maelstrom of Mitchells – A Bird Watcher’s Guide to Australia vs New Zealand

Like a flock of seagulls fighting for a hot chip on the beach, a maelstrom of Mitchells will descend upon Edgbaston today in a pivotal Champions Trophy battle of the Antipodes.

There must be something in the water Down Under that conspires to produce so many strapping specimens on a single arena – tall, muscular young men who have a fondness for hitting the ball hard (well at least in the Australian genus) and in thundering to the wicket to deliver a white Duke ball at breakneck speed.

For the non-ornithologists among you (and I fancy that is the vast majority) I have put together a bird watchers guide to the big clash, in which one or all of the Mitchells will play a leading role.

Mitchell Johnson (Mitch Radarless)

Mitch Radarless

Mitch Radarless

The oldest and most well-known of the genus, the Johnson hails from Australia’s northern climes and features a unique colouring down its left wing, commonly referred to as a sleeve.

With its dazzling and ever-changing plumage, ranging in appearance from 1920s Underbelly gangster to its current morphing as something resembling a Major Mitchell cockatoo, the Johnson is capable of destructive bursts of brilliance intermingled with astounding periods of ineptitude.

The beauty of this talismanic and unique creature lies in such flights of fancy, the watcher never knowing quite which of its enigmatic personalities it will display during its mating dances with the batsman.

Mitchell Starc (Mitch Swingerus)

Mitch Swingerus

Mitch Swingerus

Another supremely talented, yet slightly erratic bird, the Starc has recently been discovered among the urban sprawl of Australia’s largest city.Tall and angular, the Starc has a unique mating ritual with the batsman that relies upon his ability to curve the white Duke ball with searing pace in order to capture their scalp.

However, when conditions, form and fitness shear the Starc of its armoury it transforms into a rather less terrifying proposition, its mating advances quickly spurned and dispatched to all parts of the oval.

Mitchell Marsh (Mitch Loveadrinkus)

Mitch Loveadrinkus

Mitch Loveadrinkus

The most recently discovered of the Australian genus, this young bird from the nation’s western regions is a querulous specimen, prone to erratic bouts of behaviour around watering holes that have somewhat stunted its growth and development.

Yet despite these struggles, the Marsh remains a bird of great intrigue to the watcher with its occasional displays of potential, reminiscent of the greatly beloved aerialist Keith Miller.

Mitchell McClenaghan (Mitch Kiwius)

Mitch Kiwius

Mitch Kiwius

The sole representative of the New Zealand genus, the McClenaghan shares more than a passing resemblance to the Watto with its neatly arranged plumage and muscular carriage.

The Australian Watto

The Australian Watto

Like a comet streaking across the a night sky, the McClenaghan has quickly established itself as a favourite of the keen ornithologist with a series of eye-catching mating dances with the batsman that have produced a string of conquests at a strike rate superior to anyone this calendar year.

In the aftermath of their abject showing against England it would be easy to dismiss the chances of the Australians in this match, particularly in light of the Kiwis series victory over those same opponents just prior to the start of the tournament.

I for one don’t share such a view. Facing certain extinction with a loss in this match, I am predicting an emphatic response from Australia’s cornered birds, and as a keen student of their behaviour patterns, I believe it will be the Starc and the Johnson leading the way with their pace and one-two combination of swing and seam.

Naturally their efforts may amount to little should the brittle Australian batting line up fail to resist the temptations of the McClenaghan during the early mating dance.

It will be an intriguing battle, but one in which I am backing the Watto to triumph as the cornerstone of a hard-fought victory.

Of course as any keen student of the avian world would know, predicting the future behaviour of such flighty and exotic creatures is not always an exact science, but I do know one thing for certain, and that is the feathers will be flying during an epic battle for bragging rights and survival.

The Alistair Cook Effect – Does Captaincy Allow You to Soar Like an Eagle or is it an Albatross Around Your Neck ?

Recently England’s young captain, Alistair Cook, reached his 25th Test century, the most ever by a player representing the three lions of the ECB.

At just 28 years of age it is an outstanding achievement and there has certainly been much speculation and discussion around what place he might assume among the pantheon of greats once his career finishes.

Undoubtedly he will finish as his nation’s highest run scorer and century maker, and who knows, with good luck, form and health he might just surpass Sachin’s formidable tally, notwithstanding the great man’s refusal to acknowledge the appropriate time to go in a way reminiscent of the machinations of his own Board president.

However, what has really struck me is the remarkable output of runs and centuries Cook has enjoyed as captain. It reminded me of a quote from management and leadership expert Mike Myatt who once said “few can comprehend the heavy burden of leadership until it rests squarely upon their shoulders.”

It got me wondering about the effect Test captaincy has had on the performances of its recipients over the years because it is perhaps the most challenging on-field leadership role of any sport.

Essentially this is because there are two parts to it, captaincy and leadership. The captaincy piece is the most familiar to us as spectators; the naming of the batting order, the bowling changes and field placings; all of which can significantly change the course of a match. Then there is the equally important, but mostly unseen, aspect involving leadership off the field; coaching, managing personalities, setting standards and the like, not to mention the significantly increased media requirements of the modern age.

It is a weighty responsibility and one that has seen some of its holders soar like an eagle in terms of their personal contribution, but equally it has proven to be an albatross around the neck of many.

This piece is an attempt to find the eagles and the albatrosses by examining comparing the batting records of a group of international Test captains and comparing their personal output both as captain and as an ordinary member of the team.

I have selected batting as the prism through which to examine the question because there is no other discipline that so nakedly exposes a player in terms of their desire, fighting qualities and talent – after all it really is you against the other eleven at all times.

A qualifying mark of 1,000 runs scored as captain was set to ensure a statistically valid number of innings and basis of comparison, resulting in an illustrious group of 78 making the final cut – most are batsmen, some are all-rounders, with a few bowlers thrown in for good measure. A full list appears here Captaincy Effect.

Players are rated in terms of the percentage of performance difference which interestingly shows that among this group, 45 enjoyed a better average when captain, 8 were roughly equivalent within a 5% degree of variance, and the performances of the remaining 25 deteriorated by greater than 5% worse while they were captain.

So anyway, without further ado I present the list of captaincy eagles and albatrosses.

SOARING LIKE AN EAGLE

As seen above, statistically players appear to be more likely to thrive than not under the burden of captaincy, however some certainly soared higher than others. In reverse order here are the top 10.

10) Peter May (England)

Only Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss have led England on more occasions than Peter May, a very accomplished and stylish player, who scored a century on debut and was a pivotal team member and captain during a very successful era for his nation.

However, it was upon assuming the reins of the captaincy that May’s batting truly took off. In 41 Tests as captain, May averaged an outstanding 54.03 and notched a century once in every 6.50 appearances at the crease. This compares extremely favourably with his record across his other 25 appearances, in which he managed just 3 centuries (one in every 13.67 innings) at a rather more pedestrian average of 36.42.

9) Alistair Cook (England)

Alistair Cook was already an accomplished opening batsman prior to taking over the captaincy, scoring over 6,000 runs in 81 Tests at a very acceptable average of 46.36 with 18 centuries at a rate of one in almost every 8 innings.

However, since taking over the mantle from Andrew Strauss, Cook has been absolutely prolific, matched perhaps only by Australia’s Michael Clarke.

In just 11 Tests as captain, Cook has already notched up an amazing 7 centuries, at the unbelievable rate of one every 3 innings – in fact, he has converted EVERY score over 50 in this period into a century, and generally a game changing one.

It is perhaps not surprising that his average while holding the reins is a remarkable 69.00, and it is this rich vein of form since assuming the role that has seen him confidently predicted as England’s all time leading run scorer and century maker, not to mention an outside chance of surpassing Sachin’s formidable records in each of these categories.

8) Daniel Vettori (New Zealand)

I can still remember the young man who strode determinedly to the crease at number 11 against the Aussies on debut. Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined him scoring a Test century, let alone being labelled as a genuine all-rounder, but such is the power of persistence, determination and lest it be said, the captaincy effect.

In 32 Tests as captain, Vettori averaged a very respectable 39.12, often batting as high as number 6, and racking up 4 very valuable centuries at a rate of one every 14 innings. Although his numbers are a little skewed by his early lack of prowess, they clearly illustrate the power the captaincy had upon his powers of concentration and leading by example – just 2 centuries in 119 innings at a rather more modest average of 25.73.

7) Bob Simpson (Australia)

Bob Simpson is well known as one half of one of Australia’s most successful opening pairings along with his more famous partner, Bill Lawry, during the 1960s, as well as being the man who, as coach, helped return Australia back to the top of the heap in partnership with Allan Border during the latter part of the 1980s.

The other little known fact about Simpson is that he is Australia’s most successful member of the captaincy eagles, a fact made even more remarkable by the fact that a quarter of these games came after his 41st birthday when he returned to lead his nation during the WSC years after an absence of 9 years from Test cricket.

It is truly remarkable that Simpson never scored a Test century until he assumed the Test captaincy, his other 23 appearances resulting in just 11 half-centuries at the Ed Cowan-like average of 33.67.

In fact, Simpson didn’t score a Test match century until his 30th Test, breaking through with a remarkable 311 at Old Trafford in 1964, a year in which he scored a then record 1,381 runs in the calendar year.

Once he had made the breakthrough, Simpson as captain, grew wings as a batsman averaging an outstanding 54.07 in 39 Tests as leader, including 10 centuries at a rate of one every 7.10 innings. Even more remarkably, 2 of these were scored during his return to the game after a 9 year hiatus.

6) Misbah-ul-Haq (Pakistan)

Although I would not seek to put Misbah in the same class as Simpson in terms of quality, the elixir of the captaincy has had a similar effect upon his batting with his captaincy average of 54.26 comparing rather favourably to the meagre 33.60 achieved for the rest of his career.

Much of this can be attributed to the responsibility of the leadership as he reined in his free-wheeling approach and concentrated on setting an example to his mercurial teammates. It is an approach that has yielded just the one century, however he has passed fifty on a further 14 occasions in just 34 innings, including a high proportion of not out scores.

5) Graham Gooch (England)

Goochy currently holds an honoured place as his nation’s highest ever run scorer, although I suspect it is an honour he will not hold past Alistair Cook’s 30th birthday.

That not withstanding he was a pretty handy slipper and opening bat across 118 Tests for his country, but I wonder how much better his numbers might have been had he discovered the captaincy caper earlier ?

Gooch led from the front recognising that what he did would set a tone for the rest of his side and the match, and giving them perhaps more purpose than they had shown for a decade.

As captain Gooch scored 11 centuries at the rate of one every 5.76 innings, a considerable improvement from his output in his other 84 Tests where he managed just 9, raising his bat just once in every 16.89 innings.

I am sure you will not be surprised to see a considerable difference in his averages as well. In his 34 Tests as captain Goochy averaged an outstanding 58.72 to stand like a colossus over his teammates, a figure so far removed from the 35.93 he averaged across the rest of his career that you might easily describe him as the protagonist in Jekyll and Hyde.

4) Ray Illingworth (England)

Although he could hardly be described as a genuine all-rounder, Illingworth often batted at 6 or 7 in the order with a fierce determination not to give away his wicket.

He was highly rated as a strategist and captain by Ian Chappell and certainly he tried to set an example through his personal performance about the discipline and focus he expected from his players.

As captain Illingworth averaged a respectable 28.62 over 31 Tests, scoring 2 valuable centuries and 4 fifties, contrasting rather favourably with his meagre output from his remaining 30 Tests where he managed to average just 16.11 with just a solitary 50 to his name.

3) Trevor Goddard (South Africa)

Having come to the captaincy almost by default, and leading a team derided by the press as no-hopers, Goddard famously led his nation to a drawn series against Australia in 1963-4.

He was regarded as a fine all-rounder, however when looking through his career I can not but help but think that it was his ascension to the leadership that provided the necessary impetus to his batting performances that enabled him to be described in this manner.

In the 28 Tests he played without the captaincy, Goddard averaged just 27.92, failing to notch a century despite reaching 50 on 9 occasions. However as captain his output soared as he racked up 1,092 runs in just 13 Tests and a very handy average of 49.63, scoring a century and a further 9 half-centuries, matching his previous output in under half the games.

2) Imran Khan (Pakistan)

The “Lion of Lahore” is without doubt Pakistan’s most influential player and in my mind their best, although Wasim Akram could make a case.  Regardless of where you sit on this question, I don’t think there can be much argument with the fact that Imran is one of the greats of any era as either an all-rounder or purely as a bowler.

Imran was an inspirational captain and a man whose sensational efforts made his team a genuine and consistent international force. And he just got better as he went on – just think that in his final decade of Test cricket he averaged around 50 with the bat and 19 with the ball across 51 Tests, considerably better than his career record in either discipline, and considerably better than any of the great all-rounders to have played the game.

Almost all of this excellence came during his time as captain and it was his batting that became emblematic of the change in his approach as he went from a moderately talented but inconsistent player averaging 25.43 with just one century in 40 Tests, to a man who could (and sometimes did) command a place as a specialist batsman alone.

His record as captain in 48 Tests was phenomenal as he averaged 52.34 (more than twice as good as his previous output) with 5 centuries and there is no doubt that the captaincy allowed this lion to soar like an eagle.

1) Heath Streak (Zimbabwe)

Perhaps a surprising top performer in the eagles category, but Streak would appear to have emerged from much the same mould as Imran in terms of the impact captaincy had upon his personal performance.

Although Zimbabwe were undoubtedly a far stronger outfit than today’s motley crew, Streak’s personal performance had much to do with this as he transformed himself into a genuine all-rounder capable of making an impact in both disciplines.

Again the batting is an excellent barometer with Streak averaging a very competent 36.17 as captain in 21 Tests, along the way scoring his only Test century and a further 7 scores over 50. disappointing 16.01 across 44 Tests with just 4 half-centuries. It contrasts extremely favourably with his far more meagre output in his remaining 44 Tests which saw just 4 half-centuries at the less than flattering average of 16.01.

AN ALBATROSS AROUND THEIR NECKS

And now it’s time to look at the flip side of the coin, at those for whom captaincy was a heavy albatross around their neck, dragging down their personal effectiveness as batsmen, and their overall records.

10) Mark Taylor (Australia)

‘Tubby’ is regarded as one of Australia’s best post-war captains; aggressive, tactically astute and diplomatic; and a man who guided the nascent careers of many of Australia’s golden generation.

He was also a quite accomplished opening batsman, but one who struggled to maintain his previous standards while bearing the burden of leading his nation, so much so that it was only a memorable century at Edgbaston in 1997 that saved his career following a barren period of 18 months without a Test century.

You can easily see this struggle reflected in his numbers – as captain ‘Tubby’ averaged just 39.63 with only 7 centuries at a rate of one every 12.71 innings, compared to his record of 12 centuries (one in every 8.08 innings) at a far more impressive average of 46.97 without the burden of leadership.

9) Sir Vivian Richards (West Indies)

Viv was one of THE great players, one who was very much a favourite of mine for his swagger, batting bravado and crushing strokes, however he was not immune from succumbing to some degree to the weight of the captaincy albatross.

As captain, Viv averaged a creditable 45.11 with 6 centuries at a rate of one every 12.33 innings. They are decent numbers but a far cry from those performances of earlier years which have seen him rightly labelled as a great of the game – 18 centuries at an average of 53.64, with a raising of the bat once in every 6 innings.

8) Sourav Ganguly (India)

I was genuinely shocked at his inclusion in this list as Ganguly always looked up for the challenge and seemed to relish the role, but it just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving.

Ganguly captained his country on 49 occasions and averaged just 37.66 with 5 centuries at a rate of one in every 15 innings. These numbers are certainly far removed from the rest of his career record where he scored another 11 centuries (one in every 10.27 innings) in 64 Tests at 45.15, an average much more in keeping with his level of talent.

7) Nawab of Pataudi Jnr (India)

His appearance might perhaps be a slight anomaly due to the fact that like Graeme Smith, he captained his nation for the majority of his career as a Test player but in his 40 Tests as leader he averaged just 34.14 compared to his first 6 Tests without the responsibility where he averaged a far more impressive 41.00.

6) Rahul Dravid (India)

Yes, that’s three Indians in a row which might say a bit for the unique pressures that come with the captaincy of such a populous and cricket-mad nation.

As one of the great batsmen in history, I am pleased that Dravid realised relatively promptly the detrimental impact that the captaincy was having upon his performance and that his nation might be better served if he concentrated on his primary role of scoring runs.

Dravid captained India just 25 times during his illustrious career but, weighed down by the burden of leadership, he could only manage 4 centuries (one in every 11.25 innings) at a far more mortal average of 44.51.

Contrasted against his record in 139 Tests without the captaincy where he averaged a stellar 53.73 with 32 centuries at a rate of one every 7.53 innings, it is hard not to come to the same conclusion that the great man himself did – captaincy was negatively affecting his performance.

5) Lord Colin Cowdrey (England)

Cowdrey was a giant of the English game, at one stage or another holding many of their records for Test batting, and indeed on the all-time list.

His inclusion is therefore surprising and perhaps owes more to circumstance and age than the burdens of leadership.

Cowdrey assumed the captaincy following an injury to Peter May and proved immediately successful with England undefeated in his first 10 Tests until Lords in 1961. May resumed the captaincy upon his return but it was commonly believed that it would revert to Cowdrey in the foreseeable future.

After choosing not to tour Pakistan in 1961-62, the captaincy went to Ted Dexter and for the next 5 or so years there was considerable conjecture around whether Cowdrey should assume the role in preference to Dexter and then Smith.

So through an unfortunate mixture of circumstance and politics it was not until 1966, when there were few alternatives and was into his mid-30s that Cowdrey again took the reins as captain, at an age much nearer to retirement than the continuing rigours of Test cricket.

In such circumstances it could be argued that his average of just 38.11 was due more to age than pressure, but it is worth remembering that close to half of his 27 appearances as captain came during his pomp, rather than his final years, and that he scored 6 centuries at a rate per innings vastly superior to the games in which he was not captain.

On balance I think it remains fair to look at his record across his other 87 Tests where he scored 14 centuries at an impressive average of 46.16, and make the argument that the captaincy had some negative effect, perhaps unsurprising given the circumstances of the period that led to him assuming the role.

4) Bill Woodfull (Australia)

Woodfull is perhaps best known as Australia’s leader during the Bodyline series but he was a very fine batsman, one who held a great many records at Sheffield Shield level in particular.

This level of quality is certainly reflected in his early career record where, unburdened by the leadership, he averaged 53.13 in 10 Tests with 5 centuries at a phenomenal rate of one every 3.20 innings.

As captain his record reverted from outstanding to merely good as he recorded just 2 centuries in 25 Tests at a far more moderate average of 42.94, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that captaincy may not have aided his personal performance.

3) Mushtaq Mohammad (Pakistan)

Mushtaq was a very fine player, perhaps generously described as an all-rounder despite the fact that his leg spin was shamefully under-utilised at Test level.

He captained his country in a third of his appearances but failed to shine as a batsman in them, averaging just 33.38 in 19 Tests with just 3 centuries. Without the leadership, Mushtaq performed far more creditably in his other 38 Tests notching 7 centuries at a much more acceptable average of 42.06 for a front-line batsman.

2) Richie Richardson (West Indies)

Richie Richardson was a very stylish player, a man seen as a miniature Viv, both in approach and appearance with his steadfast refusal to adopt protective headwear.

It would be fairly safe to say that this is generally where the comparison should end – Richie was no Viv in terms of his record – however, they share one important trait, and that is their flair and performance appeared to be significantly impacted by the burden of leading their team.

As captain in 24 Tests, Richardson managed just 2 centuries at a modest average of 35.18, a result in no way reflective of his ability – just take a look at his record in his other 62 appearances where he scored 14 centuries (one in every 7.64 innings) at a far more impressive average of 47.90.

1) Michael Vaughan (England)

For all of his recent merciless baiting of Australia, it gives me great pleasure to announce Michael Vaughan as the man who laboured under the burden of the captaincy the most.

I am sure that as the man who famously orchestrated the return of the Ashes after 16 long years of Australian dominance he probably doesn’t much care – in fact most England fans would probably agree with him.

There can be little doubt of his outstanding man-management qualities and the vast improvement in the fortunes of English cricket it brought about, however it came at a personal cost to his run-making ability.

No longer was he the batsman who scored 900 runs in just 7 Tests against Sri Lanka and India in 2002, nor the batsman who stood alone as a beacon of hope with over 600 runs during yet another failed Ashes bid in 2002/03, a man who in 31 Tests scored 9 centuries and averaged a tremendous 50.98.

Instead we saw a tremendous captain but one shorn of his batting profligacy, a man who could only average 36.02 in 51 Tests with just 9 centuries.

As I said, he will probably not care, and neither will England fans for his place in their sporting folklore is secure, but with a huge battle for the Ashes coming up, it is a fitting way to end this piece.

Until next time … that is stumps.

From Packer to Modi and Srinivasan – The ‘Crowd’ Changing World Cricket

In 1975 Kerry Packer was just one of millions around the world who sat transfixed by broadcasts of the first World Cup ODI tournament in England. The drama and quality of the play was what stuck in the minds of most fans, but for the wealthy Packer it also sparked in his mind the seeds of an idea for a significant commercial opportunity for his television station.

With its natural advertising breaks and strong supporter base, cricket seemed to him a natural and profitable fit with his network, and Packer became determined to wrest the broadcast rights away from the national public broadcaster, the ABC.

Having had his advances so emphatically rejected by the Australian Cricket Board, Packer took the commercially brave, and revolutionary step of establishing his own international competition, secretly signing much of the world’s cricketing elite and tapping into their undercurrent of discontent resulting from low pay and lack of appreciation from their respective cricket Boards.

Thus, in 1977, World Series Cricket was born in direct competition to the establishment game.

Having shorn the cricketing world of the cream of its elite players, and most importantly their crowds, the Packer revolution was remarkably successful and within just two short seasons, a rapprochement (or some might say surrender treaty) was brokered with the ACB, and having secured the long-term broadcast and marketing rights to the game in Australia, Kerry released the players from his employ and returned them to their national teams.

Although normal service in terms of the cricket might have resumed, aspects of the game and most particularly the way it was administered had changed forever.

In a cricketing sense, although he certainly did not invent the form, Packer further popularised ODI cricket and made it a part of the cricketing mainstream by increasing its appeal to spectators at the ground, and more importantly to the viewers at home, through innovations such as the 50 over format, coloured clothing with player’s names on it, night cricket and the white ball that enabled it, and fielding restrictions aimed at increasing the number of boundaries.

However, far more importantly, Packer changed the way in which the game was administered forever as the elected amateur officials of the ACB were quickly supplanted by individuals and groups whose cultural capital came from legal, media and business interests rather than the game itself.

It was perhaps unsurprising then that the first ‘post war’ act of the ACB was to postpone the scheduled tour of India and allow a further series of lucrative ODIs between Australia, England and the West Indies.  For a Board financially weakened by the WSC conflict this may have been pragmatic and sensible, but there can be little doubt of Packer’s unseen influence at hand as he sought to generate profits not only for his television network, but also for his specially created marketing vehicle charged with promoting the game.

The famous English cricket writer Neville Cardus famously held in an essay that crowds matter in cricket. It has largely always been the case, and particularly from the late 1800’s the literature is replete with references to private and national tours planned and staged with the aim of attracting the largest crowds and the profit motive firmly in mind.

Certainly it was the huge crowds and viewing audience that WSC attracted in its second season (especially when contrasted with those of the establishment cricket) that swung the battle and advantage towards Packer in the late 1970’s.

It was a poignant reminder of the importance of the crowd, but it was a crowd very different to that of Cardus’ time, numbering not just those who came through the turnstiles, but also the vast unseen masses huddled in front of their television screens at home.

Indeed over time it has become this vast unseen home audience that has largely become the ‘crowd’, and it is this ‘crowd’, accessed only through broadcasters who pay ever-increasing sums for the privilege, that is shaping the financial landscape of cricket, and with it the power dynamics at play.

India is one of the most populous nations on earth, a nation whose love for the game of cricket is perhaps unsurpassed. Over the past decade or so a fortunate confluence of social and economic factors; increasing globalisation, the expansion of new and traditional media in all its forms, and the rapid growth of the Indian economy and emergence of a rising middle class; have provided the framework necessary to unlock the monetary value of this passion.

Like Packer, Lalit Modi and N. Srinivasan, did not invent T20 cricket, but they capitalised upon this confluence of social and economic factors via the BCCI to popularise the game and make it part of the sporting mainstream via the IPL. By any measure it has been a spectacular financial success with the combined purchase price of the nine current franchises totalling $1.145B, broadcast rights attracting revenue of $1.6B over 10 years, sponsorship revenues of well over $50m annually, and an estimated brand value for the competition of almost $4B.

In many ways it is the logical culmination of the revolution started by Packer – just on steroids and with a far more nakedly shown nexus between the Board and its commercial interests, as demonstrated in the inherent conflict of having as chairman of the BCCI the owner of the IPL franchise, the Chennai Super Kings.

However, nothing could demonstrate the fact that crowds matter so emphatically and the commercial opportunities available to the game via the vast Indian broadcast audience than the IPL, and it has made tours by the Indian team the hottest and most valuable in the game, with rival Boards captive to the rivers of gold that they provide.

If you don’t believe me take for instance the case of Cricket Australia. In their Annual Report 2011/12, CA reported revenues of $260M for the year, up some $96M from the previous season, a fact almost solely attributed to the increase in broadcasting rights revenue arising from India’s tour of Australia.

Now if the power of the Indian crowd can make such a marked difference to the fortunes of a stable and successful Board such as CA, imagine for a moment the impact such a tour would have on the fortunes of less financially robust cricketing nations such as Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies ?

It is therefore little wonder that the BCCI, in its role as the game’s primary paymaster, is seeking a greater say in the running of the game, and that fellow ICC members are enabling this via a series a clumsily constructed compromises.

It is a long list but to provide just a few examples, take the ratification of a dedicated international window for the IPL to enable the cream of world cricket to participate, the recent shenanigans surrounding the election of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan to the ICC players committee, and of course the compromise around the use of DRS in the game.

This is perhaps the way of capitalism and certainly the impact of the BCCI has not been all bad. In fact, in some ways it has been transformative, as the vast revenues and popularised formats it has brought have allowed the game to expand and take root in more countries than ever before, and allowed the Boards of full member countries to invest heavily in infrastructure and promotion of the sport to the next generation in a sports market more competitive and cluttered than at any time in history.

It has also, via the IPL and the other domestic T20 competitions it has spawned, enabled significantly improved remuneration for the players who provide the ‘content’ upon which so much of this commercial success is based as well as broadening the number of players that can benefit.

However, unlike Packer’s revolution, it has allowed players to access such financial riches without the need of national selection or the attaining of a limited number of overseas professional spots on a county roster. It has allowed players such as Chris Gayle to dictate terms of selection to his own Board, picking and choosing the international matches he can fit into his minstrel like wanderings across T20 tournaments around the globe, and leaving his impoverished Board little choice but to acquiesce lest they lose his services forever.

Left unchecked such situations could grow with unintended consequences for the fabric, traditions and history of the game. Then again, perhaps such concern is unfounded

Certainly at the time and for some years following, there was considerable opposition to Packer’s revolution and much fear of the impact it would have upon the game. The passing of time and perspective has perhaps allowed us to see that it provided much enhancement and that many of the horrors foreseen did not in the end eventuate.

Perhaps in the fullness of time we might see the current debates and issues arising from the way the BCCI is changing aspects of the cricketing landscape and its power base in a similar way ?

Of course we may not, but I do know that in such changing times, Cardus remains forever correct – in cricket ‘crowds’ matter.

Until next time … that is stumps.