Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Great innovation lacks stardust

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 at 7:10 pm

It’s still March, and the English cricket season is already up and running, thanks to the MCC. They have decided to shift the traditional season opener between the county champions (Durham) and the MCC to Abu Dhabi, UAE, in a day night game under floodlights and using a pink cricket ball.

Congratulations to the MCC for this imaginative innovation, especially the courageous decision to forsake the traditional season’s opener at Lords in London. By moving the game to the UAE, and bringing the match forward a few weeks, it has raised the profile of the contest significantly and helped get people in England thinking about the domestic season ahead.

That is why the MCC team selection for this match is such a huge disappointment.  Isn’t this supposed to be an all-star team of emerging talents? Won’t the MCC game give the England selectors something to think about? Not really, going on this line up:

MCC XI: Alex Gidman (capt), Scott Newman, David Sales, Dawid Malan, James Taylor, James Foster (wk), James Middlebrook, Tim Murtagh, Steve Kirby, Jon Lewis, Dean Cosker

James Taylor, the young player of the year, and the brilliant wicket keeper James Foster, plus the hard hitting Dawid Malan all stand out. But a  bowling attack of Cosker (Glamorgan, 32-years-old), Murtagh (Surrey, 28), Kirby (Lancs, 32) and Lewis (Glos, 34) does not spell ‘showtime’ to me. No wonder the BBC described this prestigious event as a ‘warm-up’. Ouch.

Clearly, the real all-stars are back-to-back champs Durham. Aside from the pink ball, it would be exciting to think that this game will best be remembered for the first class debut of Ben Stokes, Durham’s young all-rounder, batting at number six. The bowling and batting performance of Stokes at the ICC Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand  this winter (and yes, he is English) put this observer in mind of that big Lancastrian all-rounder chap…See any similarities?

The Analyst

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 at 9:23 am

I am a fan of the BBC’s Test Match Special podcasts. These are bit sized summaries of the day’s play (12-14mins), usually hosted by TMS mainstay Jonathan Agnew, working with a guest analyst. For the South Africa series, there was some entertainment in listening to Agnew try to control the robust and opinionated Geoffrey Boycott, who could be particularly loquacious at the end of a long, hot day.

The big names took a pass on the second half of the winter tour in Bangladesh, so the podcast baton was handed to Simon Mann. A new addition to the TMS team, Mann is a likeable and  professional host with a gentle but committed style. It’s his analyst, however, who was the real star: ex-Middlesex bowler Simon Hughes. Hughes is best known as the author of A Lot Of Hard Yakka (William Hill Sports Book of The Year 1997), and as the TV analyst for C4 during the Ashes and, latterly, his C5 test round ups. I remember one cricket convert telling me, back in 2005, that Hughes’ TV summaries were the main reason for him resuming his interest in the game. There was possibly an understandable feeling that virtually anyone associated with that glorious summer of 2005 was going to come up smelling of roses, but I think Hughes’ careful but vivid explanations really did contribute significantly to the overall feast. And what happened immediately after? The ECB signed a deal with Sky, ditching C4’s BAFTA and RDS award winning production team Sunset+Vine, Hughes included.

The former Middlesex bowler has since worked as a columnist for the Daily Telegraph as well as the C5 cricket highlights and the odd spot on TMS, but he continues to lack the profile he enjoyed 5 years ago. He wrote the book ‘Morning Everyone’ a disjointed trawl through the world of cricket journalism, which failed to thrill even those of us interested in the subject. The faintly embarrassing hagiography of Richie Benaud, which give the book its title, was hero worship without adding any particular perception or insight into the great man and his methods. By far the best bits were – surprise, surprise – his analysis of the 2005 Ashes themselves and how England won them. And yet this takes up barely a quarter of the book. Maybe some publishing boffin thought the market was too crowded and suggested a broader approach? Bad decision. Hughes was the perfect person to write the definitive text on the subject – a companion piece, maybe, to Duncan Fletcher’s necessarily self centered ‘Ashes Regained: The Coach’s Story’.

Anyway, back to the podcasts. It seems as if the pithy but trenchant10 minute test match summary is Hughes’ particular forte. His broadcasting manner is crisp with a touch of acid and a clear sense of detached objectivity: these England players are not his heroes. He is forthright, even snide, without any particular axe to grind or agenda to push. He can be open-minded and generous, but does not hesitate to stick the knife in where necessary. After the first test, Hughes used the podcasts to criticise – in his forensic style – England’s team selection for the match, urging the inclusion of a fifth bowler (Tredwell) at the expense of a batsman (Carberry) – which is exactly what the England management did for the second test. Of Bangladesh, he gave praise where it was due while remaining clear eyed about their limitations. Here are a few of his podcast extracts:

On Collingwood’s surprising dismissal for a duck against Bangladesh: “[Rubel Hossain] produced the perfect ball for Paul Collingwood, who has been Mr Consistent throughout the winter. He’s allowed a failure. He just got the one ball that had a bit of ‘essence of Waqar Younis’ about it.”

On Alastair Cook’s captaincy and his failure to contain the Bangladesh tail: “Dozy…Too many runs went down to third man, and there’s a simple reason for that. Against fast bowlers, tail enders are going to be late on the ball. because they’re not very good batsmen. They just don’t see the ball as early as a good player does, so naturally a lot of balls will end up going behind the wicket. OK, two or three balls down to third man is excusable. But not nine balls. Not 45 runs.”

On the pitch in Chittagong:

“It was a totally unsuitable surface for test cricket, which just broke the bowlers heart. You always want some kind of contest between bat and ball, and there wasn’t one at all. It was totally in favour of the bat.”

Here is a particular highlight from the 2009 Ashes: Andrew Flintoff’s run out of Ricky Ponting in the final test (“the speed was stunning and the aim was precise”).

For cricket fans, it would be great to see Hughes once more given a leading role in live TV coverage in the UK. Sky do a decent enough job on test cricket, but they still lack the best match analyst in the business.

The Ashes on TV: The Three Fifths Solution

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 at 1:25 pm

This Is What Compromise Looks Like:

Three Fifths: this is what compromise looks like

The ECB, the ruling body of cricket in England and Wales, has released a somewhat overwrought, not to say hysterical, statement concerning the disaster that will befall English cricket if the government interferes with its lucrative Sky Sports contract.

According to the ECB, the loss of the Sky deal could cost them £137m. And that if that happens, it will lead to a ‘mass exodus of players from the international game’ and the ‘collapse in the entire fabric of cricket…from the playground to the Test match arena.’

Come on chaps, pull yourselves together. The current TV deal lasts until 2013, so the £137m figure is – to say the least – questionable because it is based on a future, post-2013 deal which has yet to be offered and accepted. It also assumes that without Sky money, there would be nothing whatsoever to replace it, which is simply incorrect. BSkyB are not paying huge sums into the ECB coffers to satisfy their keen desire to develop women’s cricket in England. They are not in it for the ‘grass roots’. There is value in English cricket even without Sky, and the ECB should have more faith in its own product.

The Ashes: Our Crown Jewels

Check out what our American cousins are doing with the highly successful, and compare with the ECB’s TV site. Note that is owned and operated by the sport’s governing body.

The issue for the government, and many cricket lovers, is the exclusivity of the BSkyB deal, preventing as it does a repeat of the 2005 dream scenario when a nation enchanted by cricket sat down to watch the game in their millions. In 2005, a peak of  9 million people watched the Ashes on C4. For the Ashes in 2009, shown exclusively on Sky Sports, the peak was nearer 2m. That is a huge discrepancy and one which the Government wants to address. Driving the reform is a desire for cheap TV for all – the ‘crown jewels’ theory that test cricket belongs to the nation – as well as the more reasonable belief that a sport which is severely restricting its own exposure for short term gain is following a false strategy [*]. Cricket in England is not so robust it can shrug off the loss of several million TV viewers.

May I suggest a sensible compromise? I call it the three fifths solution, and this is how it works: BSkyB acts as host broadcaster for the five match Ashes series, with the obligation that the first two tests of the Ashes are made available for simultaneous broadcast to the highest bidding free-to-air channel. A reasonable reserve price should be set for this auction.

This solution satisfies the public service remit (the ‘missing millions’ who did not watch the 2009 Ashes) allowing the non-Sky subscribers a full 10 days of high quality and dramatic action on free-to-air TV to promote interest and participation in the game. This stimulous would be all the more effective for coming earlier in the summer season: June/July rather than September. The BSkyB package would therefore be reduced, but with the important benefit of retaining exclusivity for the significant majority of the competiton (three fifths), not to mention the ‘business end’ of the Ashes series: they would get the ‘decider’, which, for the last two Ashes, has been the final test at the Oval. BSkyB would also enjoy the added advantage of the terrestrial, free-to-air product effectively advertising BSkyB’s exclusive coverage of the remaining three tests. Imagine the effect the 2005 Egdbaston test would have had on demand for Sky subscriptions leading into the final three tests of the series: available exclusively on Sky. Ditto Lord’s 2009.

The three fifths solution gives BSkyB precious, exclusive content they would be happy to pay for, with any potential shortfall in income to the ECB made up by (significantly) increased sponsorship & advertising generated by larger viewing figures for the free-to-air product.

[*] Take the IPL 2010 on YouTube. Was this a deal whose goal was to increase the revenue of the IPL? Or was it a deal to use the broad reach of YouTube to reach a new audience and boost the international profile of the IPL brand, based on a strategy to establish the IPL as the world’s dominant T20 competition?

Thoughts on IPL 2010 on YouTube

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm

A daily fix of T20 cricket from the best big hitters and death bowlers in the world is going to prove seductive to any cricket fan.

Here are some thoughts: The YouTube image has pretty poor resolution. You can’t read the graphics. This is because YouTube, despite their enormous profile, have a particularly low res player which is not ideal for live streaming. The TV show and the players are billboards for some remarkably ugly overbranding, with logos & patches everywhere. Altogether, this smudge of different names ends up making the IPL and their backers look cheap and sloppy. The pyjama kits also need a rethink appropriate for a new but already powerful feature of the international sporting calendar. The marketing and TV production team behind the IPL could learn a lot from the UEFA Champions League coverage, where enormous care is given to the presentation of the four main competition sponsors, with integrated graphics and advertising. It makes for a better product for the viewer, and better value for money for the sponsors.

What a mess: IPL 2010 team logos

The IPL use pitchside cheerleaders to applaud wickets, fours and sixes. They do not film them very close up, which seems to defeat the point, no? It’s like the camera keeps a respectful distance, which is odd. Whatever, the cheerleader thing is a tired gimmick which seems a bit dated. And they’re not even dancers with proper routines. They just giggle about and wave their pom-poms. Also, these girls are not Indian, so presumably they are flown in for the purpose – which is a bit creepy, don’t you think? We’re told that the IPL makes huge profits, and two new franchises were recently sold at auction for a combined total of $803m. As Dolly Parton said: “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap”.

I just love the T20 format, and I like to see the ball smashed out of the ground as much as the next fan. There is little in sport to match a lustily struck six over long on. But as a format, T20 suffers from the fact that an early batting collapse, particularly in the first innings, totally kills the game. So when the Declan Chargers lost early wickets and then collapsed to 92 all out again Bangalore, it was pretty clear after just 10 overs what the likely outcome would be. Jacques Kallis and 20 yr old MK Pandey, under no pressure, knocked off the runs without incident. Impressive, but boring. I’m not sure there’s a solution to that, but it strikes me that while I’ve seen some fine batting and bowling, I’ve yet to see a close finnish.

Finally, Tendulkar is a genius in form: catch him if you can.

Sachin Tendulkar of the Mumbai Indians