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Last week's figures about the decline in participation in English club cricket set alarm bells ringing although they were only confirmation of what many had been saying for years. The ECB has promised to take action to reverse the decline, but for some clubs - often with rich histories dating back decades - it may already be too late. In the Sunday Telegraph, Nick Hoult looks at the stories of various village and town sides that have hit hard times and speaks to those trying to balance the books and keep a vital part of the game alive.
Close geographically to Thixendale but a world away in terms of cricket is the Lancashire League, which once could rival county cricket for crowds and star overseas players. Now many clubs are faced with big debts and the days of signing overseas stars such as Allan Donald (Rishton), Learie Constantine (Nelson) and a young Shane Warne (Accrington) are long gone.
"It is in the league's rules that you have to sign an overseas player but you have to pay them a salary of over £5,000 for the summer, an air fare, you can't get car insurance for the summer for less than £1,500 and then you have their accommodation costs. Overall it is about £10,000 which could easily pay for three level three coaches doing 100 sessions a year with the kids," Michael Brown, the chairman of Burnley Cricket Club, said.
Cricket's dominance in India might not be fading just yet, but the team's performance has not been as compelling as the last decade and high-profile retirements since have also had an impact on viewership. Ashok Malik, in Asian Age, wonders if a saturation has been reached, especially with other sports enticing the average fan.
Cricket viewership, even Indian Premier League viewership, is not growing. It has either reached a ceiling (IPL) or a floor (Test cricket). Even limited-overs cricket (the Fifty50) game, the mainstay of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is showing a worrying pattern. On-ground presence is lower than previously. The BCCI is masking it by hosting matches mainly in smaller cities and towns, where the novelty may still be there. As for television, a comparison between the India-West Indies limited-overs series of 2011 and 2013 would be telling. Both series were played in India. The first was played in the aftermath of India's World Cup victory and showed a TRP of 3.4 (male/15-34/Sec A, B and C). By the 2013 series, the TRP number had fallen to 2.2. TRP figures for the just-concluded (October 2014) India-West Indies series were not immediately available.
The doubts over N Srinivasan's status in the BCCI and the investigations against his IPL franchise and son-in-law for allegations of corruption did not hinder his appointment as the ICC's first chairman after a restructure of the world governing body. Chloe Saltau, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says the support Srinivasan has received from other ICC members does not help improve the game's image when it comes to fighting corruption.
Even if, as Srinivasan says, he is proven to have done nothing wrong, the fact that other members of the ICC endorsed him for the chairmanship hardly inspires confidence in their collective desire to stamp out corruption from the sport.
Women's cricket has been gaining acclaim in recent times and Australia's efficient defence of their World T20 title was another advertisement of their catching up with the men's game. It was set up by an attractive brand of play that has diverted attention squarely on their skills on the field and Greg Baum, in the Age, believes this is only the beginning.
Australia's women cricketers are under the same umbrella as the men, are paid more handsomely than ever before and in recent seasons have played some of their short-form internationals on the same grounds and days as the men. This was the case in Bangladesh, and in the previous women's World T20 in Sri Lanka. Presently, this coupling gives the women's matches the status and appearance of curtain-raisers. In time, they might be seen as authentic double-headers.
Writing in the Hindustan Times, Kadambari Murali Wade, the former editor of Sports Illustrated India shares her experience of meeting with the Mudgal Committee that was probing the spot-fixing and corruption charges in IPL 2013.
Drawing on her experience of an investigative story published in the magazine, and her interactions with the committee, she says that mere allegations or suggestions of corruption by the committee are not likely to help the cause of Indian cricket.
The ACSU does get information from several sources, players, journalists, officials etc. They reportedly even have several players on an unofficial watchlist. However, they find it difficult to push forward because of a lack of evidence that will stand up in court. Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that a Supreme Court-appointed committee seems to think there is enough "evidence".
Everyone knows that Indian cricket needs to be cleaned up. But it can't be done on the basis of allegations, unless they've received hard evidence, allegations by a committee of this magnitude could be even more damaging.
The use of the Decision Review System in the Ashes in England earlier this year split the cricketing world over the effectiveness and relevance of the technology to cricket. In an academic paper, excerpted at Phys.Org and soon to be published in the Journal of Sports Economics, Vani Borooah tries to identify the exact value that DRS brings to cricket.
"The gain from using DRS, in terms of an improvement in the percentage of correct decisions (from 93.1% to 95.8% for the first Ashes test of 2013), is miniscule relative to the large sums of money required for installing DRS. If 'getting it right' is so important to international cricket then, arguably, the same gains could be harvested, at much lower cost, by investing in more training of umpires and a determined search for more good umpires."
Star TV, the broadcaster in India, have spent $2.9 billion in buying broadcasting rights and now they have decided to venture into sponsorship rights as well. Surajeet Das Gupta, in the Business Standard, finds out why the broadcaster is pumping so much money into the game.
But the risks come with immense potential for growth for those who have the cash to stay put. To begin with, despite the criticism and fears, cricket constitutes over 10 per cent of the annual TV advertising pie (currently estimated at around Rs 14,000 crore), or Rs 1,400 crore, and in 2011, when IPL and the World Cup were held, it raked in over Rs 2,000 crore in revenues. Also unlike general entertainment channels (which draw 60 per cent of their revenues from advertising), subscription constitutes for over 60 per cent of a sports channel's revenue. So, more viewers mean more revenue through subscription.
In a piece for the Guardian's weekly segment The Spin, Andy Bull questions whether fast bowling in Test cricket is actually losing its pace. Bull cites a study of baseball pitchers conducted by Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute, and the latter has suggested that fast bowlers might also be reaching their physical limit. The important question is whether the trend may be depriving fans of one of the most exciting elements of Test cricket.
That mindset has been passed down by coaches, who see the perfect action as being the one that bears the most repetition while minimising the risk of injury and maximising the degree of control. As Brearley says, Test cricket is poorer for it, stripped as it is of the physical threat to the batsman and robbed of one its most exciting elements. But bowlers have longer careers as a consequence. Fans and players love to argue about who was the fastest. That's a debate that can't be settled. But it is clear that you won't find many contenders in this day and age. We are in a time of tortoises, not hares. The perfectly fast action, like the perfect game of draughts, is a thing of the past, a target players have long since stopped pursuing.
On Thursday, Durham won their third Championship title in 21 years, a victory that was built entirely by players picked from the community. In the Telegraph, Scyld Berry says that the Durham's victory is an example of what can be achieved when new regions are empowered with first-class status. While admitting that the addition of another county may stretch first-class cricket resources too thin, Berry also suggests that the road ahead for English cricket may lie in empowering communities.
I suspect our inner cities contain many cricketers who play below the official radar of premier leagues, or never play formal cricket at all, now or in the past. Not a single England Test player has been born in Wolverhampton, one in Hull, two in Stoke-on-Trent, and one in Liverpool since the nineteenth century.
There needs to be a pathway for inner-city players of all ethnicities, who either have no access to proper cricket facilities or cannot afford to join the few inner-city clubs that exist, with their costly membership and match fees, quite apart from expensive kit.
Ireland versus England is never short of interest and Malahide could not have hoped for a better introduction to the world stage. Home captain William Porterfield struck a century to ignite hopes of another famous upset. But his opposite number and fellow Irishman, Eoin Morgan's skill at controlling the chase fetched him a ton and England the victory. Despite the loss, Sport for business believes the game provided an occasion for the fans, journalists, people in political office and from industry to realise the market for cricket in Ireland.
The best estimate of the financial exposure taken on to build a 10,000 seater temporary but international standard arena was between €375,000 and €400,000. When the final financial calculations are done they will likely show that a small cash profit was made. In straitened times that is important but the real and invaluable benefit lies in the establishment of the sport in the public eye as a serious endeavour, with the scope for young players to advance, and as a medium for corporate investment that delivers a return.
Australia are doing their best to ensure their young batsmen learn the art of building innings. Former England batsman Graeme Hick, has taken up the position of a consultant at the Center of Excellence for the winter, and Cricket Australia are hoping their emerging batsmen can benefit from his experience. In the Courier-Mail, Hicks says that flashy cricket is a symptom of a society that moves fast.
"A few of the young players now like the flashy stuff and are probably more concerned about playing the reverse sweep than batting a long time."
With a large immigrant population, Cricket Australia is devising a 'diversity strategy' to assimilate and attract more players from Asian backgrounds. In the Age, Jake Niall believes this can benefit the game with effects that go beyond the playing field.
The cricket diversity strategy needs a specific subcontinental bent, because Australian cricket's future lies with the subcontinent - and with the subcontinent within Australia. It should study carefully what the AFL has managed with indigenous Australia, albeit Indians et al are coming from a very different place.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan introduces the concept of a two-tier Test cricket system with greater financial rewards in the Telegraph, suggesting it could be a way to save Test cricket and improve the quality of the game.
If the incentives do not change then Test cricket in 15 years' time will be under huge threat. You have only to look at the May Test series in England that clashes with the Indian Premier League. At the moment there is no incentive for visiting players to skip the IPL and play Tests for their country in England. The prestige of playing a Test at Lord's only goes so far when weighed against a big IPL contract.
But that could change if we have two divisions. Just imagine if New Zealand have to come to England and win one out of three Tests to stay in the first division or win promotion. If there is a proper financial incentive to playing in the first division, like there is in football's Premier League, then players would be less likely to choose the IPL instead.
Cricket is growing in India at such a rate that it is not inconceivable that the top-paid sportsman in the world ten years from now will be an Indian cricketer, Rick Westhead says in Toronto's Thestar.com. He analyses what the Indian Premier League has done for the sport in terms of increasing its potential to make money and predicts that 13-year-old Armaan Jaffer, who recently broke the record for the highest individual score in Indian school cricket, could one day earn more than the $75 million a year Tiger Woods makes.
The Indian Premier League has just wrapped up its fourth season and player salaries are higher than ever. A recent survey reported the average salary on some teams, which play 14 regular-season games, approached $90,000 a week this year during the frenetic six-week schedule. Then there’s corporate cash. Seizing an opportunity for a toehold in a country whose economy has charged ahead over the past decade at a 9 per cent annual clip, sponsors are signing cricket’s top stars as so-called “brand ambassadors” to contracts worth as much as $3 million a year.
Kieron Pollard is at once a struggling cricketer and hot property. His experiences will help to determine whether Twenty20 is a breakthrough, as supporters insist, a popular form of the game capable of unleashing exciting new talents or a distraction creating not greatness but its illusion, writes Peter Roebuck in the Hindu.
Pollard is still learning the game. His Test and ODI returns are modest. He has abundant promise and spasmodic delivery.
And yet Pollard can become a formidable cricketer. He has a rare gift. Just that he needs to tighten his technique. And that means working on his back foot game not his 'dilscoop'.
The exclusion of the associate countries for 2015 was down to TV money and turkeys understandably not voting for Christmas writes Mike Selvey in the Guardian.
Do not underestimate the significance of this second decision to come out of Mumbai this week, or the diplomacy that went into arriving at it, for it could mean that Zimbabwe do not qualify, or perhaps Bangladesh, or possibly even West Indies. Each, it is reported, fought their corner vehemently to protect their position but in the end were forced to concede the ground. Somehow the turkeys really have been persuaded to vote for Christmas.
The ICC's decision to restrict the number of teams in the 2015 World Cup to its ten Full Member nations, is a decision that shows no consideration for the good of the game, writes Greg Baum in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The reality is that the game desperately needs to expand its horizons, and Ireland and the Netherlands are frontiers, and the ICC has abandoned them.
The ICC says the door remains ajar for minnows in the 2019 tournament. That is a sop. One-day cricket will be dead by then.
Australia has just become host of cricket's Shame Games, writes Malcolm Conn in the Daily Telegraph. The showpiece 2015 World Cup, to be held in Australia and New Zealand, now carries the unmistakable stench of rampant cronyism.
There is no logical reason why Zimbabwe should have gained preference ahead of Ireland for the next World Cup, but then there is no justification for Zimbabwe maintaining the full voting rights and entitlements of a Test-playing country.
The Belfast Telegraph blasts the ICC decision to exclude Associate nations from the 2015 World Cup, and wonders whether Ireland will be able to retain their best talent in the absence of one-day cricket.
George Dockrell will be only 26 in 2019 and Paul Stirling in his prime at 28 but will they still be Ireland players by then? Will a biennial Twenty20 World Cup and the occasional ODI be enough to keep them in Ireland colours or will England come calling for the country’s finest?
What is fair about denying the team ranked 10th in the world - Ireland - any chance of a spot in a 10-team World Cup asks Dave Tickner, writing in Sporting Life. The 2015 World Cup has been replaced by a 2015 ICC Invitational, he says, as no tournament that denies an entry route to all but a select few has the right to the title of 'World Cup'.
What is 'just' about telling every other cricketing nation outside your protected elite that they are not welcome at the game's biggest global gathering? The ICC have cancelled the 2015 World Cup. No tournament that denies an entry route to all but the select few has the right to that title.
The World Cup has two main problems: it's too long, and has too many meaningless matches. Simply reducing the teams solves neither. You could increase the number of competing teams to 16 and polish off a neat 31-game tournament with at worst a handful of dead rubbers through four groups of four, followed by knockouts from the quarter-finals onwards. But in the 2015 ICC Invitational, the 10 teams will play each other in a round-robin first stage followed by semi-finals and a final. That equals 48 games. The World Cup just finished had 49 games.
Richard Lord in the Wall Street Journal writes that while all sports want to expand their geographical footprint, cricket needs to tread very carefully if it wants to preserve the things that made it popular. The aim is to narrow the gap between nations with established and new teams, but it could be causing that gap to widen.
Playing with a Twenty20 mindset, with 20 overs a side, can damage your technique in longer versions of the game. Test matches can last as long as five days, while one-day Internationals are up to 50 overs a side. If smaller nations' main experience is of games that last three hours rather than five days, the possibility of them ever attaining Test status recedes even further into the distance.
Matthew Syed is having a hard time keeping up as sports evolve at a dizzying pace - the many rule tweaks in Formula 1, the switch-hits and scoops of Twenty20, the changes in the badminton scoring system. He writes in the Times that sports which fail to adapt to the demands of the Xbox generation will be consigned to the backwaters of village halls.
There is little point resisting the logic of the global market, unless you want your sport to be dependent on the subscriptions of half a dozen members. I happen to love the tempo of Test cricket, its soothing rhythms and evocative associations, but I would be foolish to suppose that my preference counts for more than one vote in the democracy of the market.
Those who proclaim that there is something “wrong” with Twenty20, or that administrators should somehow resist its march, do not recognise how capitalism works. Either the existing governing bodies (the ICC, ECB and so on) embrace what the fans want, or they leave the door ajar for others to take control, able to purchase the best players and the biggest stars with money the traditionalists can never match.