India in England 2014 July 7, 2014

ECB profit could be England's loss

The visit of India will swell the coffers of English cricket but there could be a greater cost in the long term

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'Getting Kohli in early is key' - Broad

Cricket is no longer measured in terms of victories and defeats. Not predominantly, anyway. It is measured in terms of profit and loss.

How else could it come to pass that two middle-ranking Test teams would come to carve up the management of the cricket world? How else could it come to pass that, while the 2012 series between South Africa and England to decide the No. 1 Test spot was played over just three Tests, the world's fourth- and fifth-rated sides will now contest a five-match series in the space of 42 days? How else could it come to pass that the same business plan that has earned the ECB more money than ever before is also responsible for hindering the ability of its team to compete at their optimum level?

It is because cricket in England is about money, not merit.

The summer of 2014 will earn the ECB more money than any that has preceded it. Such is the value of the television audience that India generates, the season will earn even more than 2013, when England hosted an Ashes series and a Champions Trophy. That is despite one side having not won in eight successive Tests and the other having not won away in more than three years. If this were a boat race, you might expect both sides to sink.

There are many positive aspects of the ECB's wealth. It has allowed them to retain the services of their best players despite the threat of T20 leagues. It has allowed them to retain an army of support staff so large that, at times, they outnumber the playing squad. It has allowed the ECB to lead the world in the funding of disability cricket and to bring a new level of professionalism to women's cricket. It has allowed them to spend heavily on grass-roots cricket; building new facilities at clubs around the country and ensuring the continued existence of the 18-county domestic game.

But it also comes at a cost. By squeezing so many Tests into such a short window, the ECB is giving England's leading pace bowlers - the same bowlers that present the best chance of victory - little possibility of performing at their best. And, in the longer term, it risks those players in greatest demand leaving the game prematurely through burn-out (Jonathan Trott) or injury (Graeme Swann). In 2015, those players - and coaches - involved in all formats will spend around 300 days in hotels. Too much is asked of them.

Equally, the desire - an admirable desire - to ensure as little time off the pitch as possible has seen new drainage installed at most grounds. That has led not just to quick-drying outfields, but quick-drying pitches. The days of green seamers are largely gone and, with them, England's home advantage. India may not have realised it yet, but the pitches in this series may help their spinners more than England's seamers.

Across English cricket, decisions are taken which bring short-term financial gain but will cost in the longer term. From selling all live TV rights to a subscription broadcaster, to diluting the value of the Ashes by playing too many limited-overs series against Australia, the ECB is risking the long-term health of the game while claiming it is earning more than ever before. The administrators need to understand that sport, like schools and hospitals, cannot be judged purely on the bottom line.

Eventually there is a danger that, if England continue to play on low, slow wickets, if they continue to play jaded cricket, if they continue to be absent from free-to-air TV, if they continue to lose and play the same opposition, the value of broadcast rights and ticket sales will diminish. But, by then, the current management will have moved on and will be able to look back and say that all was okay on their watch.

They were points touched upon, albeit gently, by Stuart Broad as he looked ahead to the Test series. Broad, who looked weary by the end of the two-Test series against Sri Lanka, expressed his concern at the schedule and the grounds' new drainage.

"If the pitches are dry, I think India will be licking their lips with the two spinners, won't they?"
Stuart Broad

"Back-to-back Test cricket does really tire you out," Broad said. "This schedule's got five Test matches in the space of probably three, so it is pretty hectic. We will have to look after our bodies, big time. Part of the reason we had a camp last week was to get a lot of cricket work in before the series started. Once we get underway there's just no training time really.

"The clubs have all spent huge money on all these drainage systems to make sure we can get out on the field. But I don't know how much research was done into what they do to the pitches. I know our players, three or four years ago, brought the theory up that they were making the wickets too dry, too early and it is quite hard to keep bounce in the wickets now unless you leave them really green, which Test match wickets just don't do.

"So it is a bit of an issue we're suffering, with pitches bouncing three or four times to the keeper. I think Test wickets should be flat, no doubt, because the crowds want to come and see runs scored. But if you catch the edge of a batsman it's got to carry to the keeper and the slips, that's the number one rule.

"It didn't happen at Lord's and Headingley. They turned out to be really slow and both really should have been draw wickets. It will be interesting to see how this series plays out. But, if they're dry, I think India will be licking their lips with the two spinners, won't they?"

It seems they may not. Perhaps influenced by Duncan Fletcher's previous experience of English pitches - which might prove to be somewhat dated - it seems India may select a side bursting with seamers and with only one spinner.

In the short term, England may retain the seam-bowling depth to defeat an India side who have not won a single Test away since June 2011. In the longer term, if they really want to enjoy a sustained period among the best teams in the world, they need the ECB to devise a new business plan that looks to the benefit of the whole game, not just the bottom line.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sheik on July 9, 2014, 3:14 GMT

    @ Posted by Greatest_Game on (July 8, 2014, 8:09 GMT) - "Behold" - so says the supporter of a team who were supposed to be steam rolling us in their own backyard the last time we visited and yet - managed to chicken out and satiate with a draw in the first test..with their best fast bowler going wicket less for 200+.. wow - eat some humble pie.

  • ram on July 8, 2014, 18:22 GMT

    i agree why country like southafrica produced qulity sides than england since readmission i am inndian but i like to england crusg sa regularly. country like sa should not have strong team than england

  • ashok on July 8, 2014, 16:41 GMT

    great article George... you just typed the sad state of ECB..

  • Luka on July 8, 2014, 13:32 GMT

    I completely agree with anyone that say SA is the team to beat - it has been the case for the past decade.

    But readers have to look at the underlying causes for this. SA play significantly fewer test and ODI than England, Aus or India every year. They have different squads for different formats of the game - Steyn has played only a handful of ODI and that too only in the main tournaments. SA main strength is their bowling and they provide more than ample rest for their strike bowlers by playing a limited # of matches. India or England is not blame if CSA wont organise longer test tours or more matches in each year!

    India runs on a different model - their main strength is batting, but you never see Kohli and Dhoni being rested for more than 2-3 matches in a year, if any. A core of 8-9 players play all three formats, and then there is the IPL and CLT20. The economics of the sport is different in that country - the sponsors dont allow the main players to rest. Its perspective, guys!!

  • Dummy4 on July 8, 2014, 13:28 GMT

    Thank you George, for saying what needed to be said. There is absolutely no point in building up "grass roots" cricket unless 1. the English team are winning, 2. the kids can watch them win on free-to-air. Mr Clarke and his cronies seem to overlook the fact that unless England are being successful, their own management of English cricket must be deemed a failure.

  • Luka on July 8, 2014, 13:18 GMT

    @Greatest_Game, eloquence in words will only get you so far. You have to make economic sense to function as a rational individual in the world today. I don't know what I can say if you dont believe in market forces and trends. I feel like I am arguing with a cat - I give you rational reasons why as to why England would want to play India for 5 tests and all you do is purr, and people get happy.

    As for playing SA, it is not India's call when SA dont want to tour as often, or play other countries enough. Other than the last series, where there were legit reasons for a curtailed tour - Sachin's retirement, a change of sponsor at the end of 2013 and communication breakdown between CSA and the BCCI - India has readily played SA. They have been instrumental in their return in 1991/92 and have been giving the team good competition in the last few series (2010, 2011, 2013). Seriously, find logical reasons to back your claims, and not spend hours in the thesaurus.

  • Jason on July 8, 2014, 11:52 GMT

    @neil9, quite correct tours lasted a number of weeks, but in that time the teams generally played as many games as they do in terms of tests. I remember in the 1980's you would have 6 tests starting in June and completing by the End of august, with a Rest day after Day 3 and a weekend break between tests, ODI cricket was an after thought of 3/4 games, and there was no T20.

    A fast bowler with a 30yrd run up will bowl 40-50 overs/test, that's 7-9Km, that's 35-40Km in a 5 test series. Add on training, running around in the field etc and they can easily cover 70-100km.

    On tour its even worse as there are a lot less ways to get away from the game at home they can go home between tests and see family and relax,

  • Indian on July 8, 2014, 11:20 GMT

    Only a few weeks back everyone was complaining that ICC is not doing enough to save test cricket citing that most series only have 2 or 3 test matches... so now we get a 5 test match series... and guess what?.. people are still complaining...!!

  • Steve on July 8, 2014, 10:56 GMT

    Feels strange to be saying this, but please read Derek Pringle on Ali Cook in yesterday's DT!

  • vas on July 8, 2014, 10:56 GMT

    If they play less Test matches and favour more ODIs for financial reasons you can complain. Do you have to complain now when they play more Test matches?

    Rankings doesn't dictate the length of the series. One thing it fluctuates. Other thing is any series will attract viewers if it is competitive and exciting. Even the recently concluded series between WI v NZ was very competitive. If they had a better fan base they could also afford a 5-match test series.

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