Kent fight for survival
Perhaps the darkest hour really is right before the dawn. That's what they'll be hoping at Kent, anyway, where news that the club has been unable to retain the services of one of their best players might be mitigated by news that the long-delayed redevelopment project looks as if it will finally go ahead.
The club have secured a loan of £4million (repayable over 25 years at an interest rate of just 4.4%) through the council to further the redevelopment of their Canterbury home. They aim to exchange contracts with the builders within the next week and begin work as soon as the season is over. The hope is that the money realised from the residential development, new hotel and conference facilities can revitalise a club that has clearly been living beyond its means for some time.
It's certainly needed. After suffering crippling financial losses over the last few years (£800,000 last year and £700,00 the year before), Kent have been left in a desperately weak position and are currently reliant on the benevolence of their chairman and ECB loans for keeping their heads above water.
The depth of Kent's problems was brought home when it emerged that they had been unable to even offer Amjad Khan a new contract. It provoked fears that the club was engaged in a fire-sale of its best players and that a mass exodus was imminent. Quite apart from Amjad Khan, who has been linked to Somerset and Sussex, Darren Stevens has been linked with Hampshire and Martin van Jaarsveld to Lancashire. If the rumours are true - and at this time of year, they rarely are - they'll be nothing left at Canterbury next year but tumble weed.
But, according to Kent's chairman, George Kennedy, that is simply not so. While he admits that things have been "dire" he is bullish about the future and insists that all the remaining senior players will be staying.
"All our senior players are under contract and we'll retain them for the 2011 season," Kennedy says. "I've heard the stories that we're looking to get rid of them, but nothing could be further from the truth."
Kennedy has certainly put his money where his mouth is. He's lent the county "several hundred thousand pounds" though he still expects the club to record another financial loss this year. "My loan got us through a tricky period," he says. "It was meant to be short term, but the banks weren't falling over themselves to lend us money. Hopefully I get it back shortly."
Kennedy wasn't the only one to help. A couple of other wealthy Kent members also offered their services, while the ECB have twice advanced money to the club from their annual allocation. There's no disguising the fact that finances are desperately tight, however.
So, how did it come to this? "We got some things horribly wrong," Kennedy, who has been chairman for just a couple of years, admits. "We lost a fortune [around £190,000] from hosting pop concerts, we had redundancies and the early retirement of the former chief executive at the club and the T20 this year was a disaster. As a consequence, we've had to cut back."
"The biggest expense any club has is its playing staff, so this year we've had to look at that. When we came to talk to Amjad it immediately became apparent that he'd had an outstanding offer from elsewhere and we knew straight away that we couldn't match it. We wanted to keep him and he wanted to stay but, in a way, he's solved a problem for us. We are not looking to lose any more senior players."
Grace Road continued
The battle for Grace Road continues. A petition bearing the signatures of 165 Leicestershire members demanding a Special General Meeting of the club has now been formally exchanged. That's around 14% of the club's total membership and far exceeds the 5% necessary to call such a meeting.
It could still be avoided, however. The club's board meet on Friday, September 3, to discuss the calls from the club's captain and coach - Matthew Hoggard and Tim Boon respectively - for the chairman, Neil Davidson, to resign or be removed. While recent statements suggest Davidson has no intention of resigning, he has said he'll go if the members or board don't want him. A statement is expected shortly after the meeting.
An inconvenient truth
"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."
Martin Luther King probably wasn't thinking about county cricket when he uttered those words, but they seem oddly appropriate as we reflect on the match-fixing allegations that have shaken our game in recent days.
There have been two primary responses to the News of the World expose. One is shock and the other is outrage. You could be forgiven, however, for finding something disingenuous about either reaction.
If everyone in the game is really so outraged, why has so little been done to rid our sport of both match-fixers and drug cheats? The ICC set up an Anti-Corruption Unit, but what have they done? They've banned a couple of players (though nearly all were retired or have subsequently been allowed back into the game) and probably made the fixers work harder for their gains, but the silence coming from the ACSU over recent months has been deafening. It is telling, surely, that it was a newspaper and not the ACU who broke this latest story.
The counties have to reflect on their own actions, too. Herschelle Gibbs, the South African batsman, eventually admitted he had taken money to underperform in international games (though he denied it until the evidence was overwhelming). But, after a brief suspension, he not only returned to international cricket, but has played county cricket for Glamorgan and Yorkshire in the last couple of years. If the game is really serious about cleansing itself, it cannot allow such characters to prosper. It cannot allow them a route back.
Consider Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, too. Despite failing drug tests, they were both subsequently signed by Surrey. Yes, the pair were cleared on a technicality (they stated, predictably, that they didn't knowingly take the performance enhancing steroid) but WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, made their feelings clear by attempting to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, and only dropped it when they accepted that the Pakistan Cricket Board was not under the court's jurisdiction.
Then there's the example of Shane Warne. Not only was he found to have supplied information to bookmakers, but he also failed a drugs test. It was not for a recreational drug, either, but a masking agent known to conceal anabolic steroids. But what did Cricket Australia do? They broke their own rules and banned him for only half of their two-year mandatory period. Hampshire subsequently not only signed him, but made him their captain. What sort of message does that send out?
And then there's England. A few years ago an enquiry into match-fixing in Pakistan led by Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum, a retired Pakistan high court judge, recommended that Mushtaq Ahmed, among others, "should not be appointed to any position of authority or responsibility."
So what's Mushtaq's job now? He's a spin bowling coach with the England squad. That being the case, it's very hard to take all the tough talk coming from England captains - past and present - seriously.
And there's the rub. For while everyone talks a strong game when advocating harsh penalties, it seems to change when the consequences apply to them. Counties find a way of justifying signing tainted overseas players or turning a blind eye to inconvenient truths. Morals of convenience pervade.
If we're really serious about ridding the game of such issues, there has to be a deterrent. The truth is that teams - be they counties or international - keep putting their own interests ahead of the common good. They have been wrapped up in their own self interest. They all need to reflect long and hard about how the game has sunk to this level. They are all partially culpable.
Everyone has to take some responsibility for cleaning up cricket: the counties, the national boards and the ICC. If charity begins at home, morality surely does, too.