It doesn’t yet look like a camel, but Andrew Strauss’s committee to propel English cricket to the top of the world and keep it there has come up with a discussion document that doesn’t quite resemble a thoroughbred racehorse. Once it’s been through the wringer of consultation with the members of the 18 first class counties it may well become a dromedary. Which would be a shame as it has much to commend it.
The work of Strauss’s gang of high performance experts has been corralled by Twenty First Group, a consultancy that I’ve got a lot of time for, but whose principal expertise lies in football and golf rather than cricket. The material the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) published last week for debate with the counties is quirky in the data that the committee has chosen to present. It is heavy on red ball statistics, even though the stated objectives are success across all formats of cricket and a thriving domestic game.
It’s clear that Strauss and co. have been looking primarily through a Test match lens. Which in one way will be a relief for those who fear that the ECB is neglecting the sport’s heritage in its dash for cash. Even the most insular county member would surely concede that a successful England Test team is good for the overall health of the game.
There is even a hint that Strauss himself might be frustrated at being hamstrung by his paymasters’ commitment to The Hundred until 2028. The discussion paper tip-toes around the issue, simply asking how more successful T20 Blast players can secure contracts in The Hundred.
The document does slavishly describe The Hundred as a best vs best competition, without asking whether this is a format that is needed at all in the pursuit of No1 global status. No other nations are showing signs of adopting it. The review is heavy on the What It Takes To Win (WITTW) sloganeering so beloved of UK Sport, without going so far as using its discredited “no compromise” tag. The Hundred is clearly one ginormous compromise which will no doubt be central to the debates Strauss will be having on the county circuit over the coming weeks.
Most of the first class counties are heavily dependent on subsidies from the ECB, which has always made discussions about the structure of the cricketing calendar fraught. What I like about the thrust of Strauss’s proposals is the evident desire to ensure that the standard at the top of the county game is as close as possible to that required for players to succeed in Test cricket. It makes sense, however uncomfortable that might prove for those counties not initially in, say, a smaller top red-ball division.
Another clear compromise constraining the committee is the commitment to retaining 18 first class counties. With at least 12 of those required to vote in favour of any changes this is obviously a prudent concession. And again, a very welcome one – provided the ECB is genuinely committed to helping each county find a healthy place in the ecostructure of the game reflective of its individual scale, geography and ambition.
The counties are membership organisations. Their members, unsurprisingly, are interested in watching those formats of cricket that interest them at the times of the year that are most conducive to exciting sport played in pleasant viewing conditions – and ideally for their team to be winning.
A lot is being made of Strauss’s drive to reduce the amount of cricket played, but the ECB has been the architect of this, at international level and domestically. Get the basic structure of the calendar right for the counties and my bet is that – with considerable grumbling – they will concede some days of action. Just so long as the ECB is seen to acknowledge its own culpability and act decisively on it.
Strauss’s original ambition was to have any changes to cricket’s structure in place for 2023. Now the aim is 2024, no doubt in part a reflection of the arrival (at long last) of Surrey’s Richard Thompson as the new ECB chair, as well as realistic expectations about how difficult the coming consultations and eventual vote(s) will be. This English cricket season is going to stretch long into the winter. Horse or camel? Lay your bets.
We’re all gunna make it
Ninety-first ranked Crawley Town FC dumped Premier League Fulham out of the League Cup last week and the price of its NFTs doubled overnight. And so IRL (in real life) and the digital world entwined. For 5,577 fans in the stadium that night, a pitch invasion that risks the club being fined; for 5,600 holders of tokens, a little relief from their sliding value since they were minted in July.
Crawley’s new owners, WAGMI United, hail from the world of Web3 and raised the equivalent of $4m from the issue of 10,152 NTFs at 0.4 ethereum each. The tokens give no ownership stake in the club. Instead they grant access to a range of IRL and digital events, some exclusive merchandise and promise “special input on the future of Crawley Town FC”.
In essence, this is a membership bolt-on for a dedicated fan, or a means of engagement for those following remotely. Unsurprisingly, it appears the token holders are more crypto sports fans than Sussex locals.
The NFTs had lost 75 per cent of their value by the time Crawley suffered a tough start to their season. And the post Fulham cup triumph fillip has proven short-lived. As yet without a win in six league games, the team is a long way off the new owners’ boast that promotion to League One is a 50/50 shot within two seasons.
The utility of a token shouldn’t be so strongly correlated to the team’s performance. (In fact, having a say might be deemed to be more valuable when times are tough than when all is going well on the pitch). But it seems that’s the case.
Crawley may well be operating at a loss at present, like most of their League Two counterparts, and if so WAGMI could be contemplating future token issues. Perhaps an annual close season minting. If so, they’ll need to start making good on those claimed promotion odds pronto.
I’d like to see Crawley/WAGMI succeed, if only because theirs is an innovative approach to football finance that needs more than one go around before we can properly gauge its utility.