After glorious summer, chill winds blow
Season of wonderful cricket has been a fine distraction but the fallout from Covid-19 has left the global game in crisis
After England and West Indies took a knee on day one of the summer, Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent led an emotional discussion on racism. “I was never taught anything good about black people and you can’t have a society that only teaches what is convenient,” Holding said. “History is written by the conquerers, not those that were conquered.” Holding grabbed the attention but for English cricket the more revealing, and worrying, words came from Rainford-Brent. “I had comments about where I grew up. The fact that maybe I didn’t know who my dad was, about my hair, body parts. It was constant. I love the game, it has so much more to offer, but it can be really difficult dealing with that day in, day out.”
IFriday 18 September 2020 t was great while it lasted, but the wonderful summer of international cricket ended on Wednesday night and now the reality of Covid life is kicking in.
England’s 18 internationals against four opponents were a valuable distraction. For 10 weeks from July 8 it was almost back to normality, discussing their lack of a topquality spinner or reliance on two ageing new-ball bowlers.
But as the England players left the biobubble in Manchester either to reacquaint themselves with families they have barely seen for the past 90 days, or to hop on a private charter to the United Arab Emirates for the Indian Premier League, real life was dawning again.
At the England and Wales Cricket
Board the process of cutting 62 jobs has begun, with reductions in staff across the board. Many counties are now staring at the winter and wondering what comes next. Money has been guaranteed until January and the ECB has assured the counties they will receive their full £3.8 million allocation next year, but many know they cannot survive another summer like this.
Kent last week announced a 20 per cent reduction in off-field staff, others have already done so without making it public. Surrey are understood to have let about 20 members of staff go and one county source estimated “at least a couple of hundred” will be made redundant across the 18 clubs, and that is before playing staffs are trimmed. The Professional Cricketers’ Association has 70 members out of contract at the end of the season and expects most to leave the game.
The cricket wheel turns quickly and the IPL begins tomorrow in Dubai, but without fans and at huge
It was just a regulation first ball that Burns defended with ease but it meant so much. It was the first day of a very different summer that had looked as if it would never happen. In rapid time, the England and Wales Cricket Board, led by Steve Elworthy, produced plans for a biosecure environment and charter flights to whisk West Indies players to the UK and once the Government was convinced it could work, the board was able to save the game from ruin. Day one felt strange, with rules so strict that Rod Bransgrove could not go into the Rod Bransgrove pavilion. Temperature tests, arrows on the floor, sanitising stations, and players using sweat instead of saliva to shine the ball soon became as routine as Roach bowling outside Burns’s off stump. expense to relocate teams, broadcasters and support staff from India to the UAE.
The IPL lost Vivo, its title sponsor, last month after a row over a discount due to there being no spectators this year and political tensions between China and India. Vivo, a Chinese telecom company, has been replaced by online gaming company Dream11, which is paying about £27 million, half the Vivo fee.
Franchises expect a 30 per cent drop in revenue this year, and are hoping 20 per cent will be covered by the Indian cricket board. Sponsors are demanding reductions because they will not have access to fans at grounds so ticket revenue will be nil. Still, the IPL beast will recover, given India’s economic might and the fact that cricket offers companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon a direct line to a growing middle class.
England hope to play six whiteball matches in South Africa at the end of November, but Cricket South Africa last week lost a major sponsor, Momentum, after the board was sacked by the government, and it is in deep crisis.
Jobs have already been lost at Cricket New Zealand, and in the West Indies the Caribbean Premier League was played in its entirety in Trinidad behind closed doors and will make a loss this year. Players and staff have already taken 50 per cent wage cuts.
Cricket Ireland has been unable to host any international cricket this summer. Before Covid, Ireland downgraded a series with Bangladesh from Tests to one-dayers for financial reasons. The board faced “a number of financial headwinds” as it made the transition to Test cricket, Warren Deutrom, its chief executive, said. Those winds are now gale-force.
Afghanistan have not played since March. They recently made Andy Moles, the head coach, redundant and cut player salaries by 50 per cent. Sri Lanka are hoping to play against Bangladesh next month but a row has erupted over quarantine. Bangladesh are refusing to quarantine players for two weeks, as requested by the Sri Lankan government, putting the tour in doubt.
Then there is Australia. It has been a torrid time in Melbourne for Cricket Australia, which should be preparing to host the World Twenty20 next month. Kevin Roberts, the chief executive, left in June over plans to cut costs by 25 per cent. He was accused of overreacting, but earlier this week two of the board’s broadcast partners paid only reduced instalment fees and Channel 7 has tried to terminate the final four years of its deal.
Cricket boards live and die by their rights deals. A nasty and expensive court battle looms. The World T20 will not be played in Australia until 2022, and the Ashes will feel very different next year, too. Who knows if England fans will be allowed to travel.
Cricket will carry on, matches will be played behind closed doors and players will continue to do great things, which is fortunate because distraction is what everybody needs.
Stokes gives England victory When asked to compare Ben Stokes to a cartoon character, Joe Root said: “Mr Incredible?” Stokes had made contrasting scores of 176 and 78 in the second Test to drag England to a series-levelling win against West Indies. Two body-breaking spells also broke West Indies resistance.
Broken Buttler bounces back After the first day of the first Test against Pakistan, Jos Buttler spoke to wicketkeeping coach Bruce French at Old Trafford following a torrid display behind the stumps. His batting was also a mess. Buttler then rallied to lead a daring run chase, tweaked his technique and scored a second Test hundred.