Ed Warner: What I would do if I were in charge of English cricket
This week, Ed Warner writes an open letter to the ECB, which runs English cricket, as it begins its search for a new chair of the governing body.
I see you’ve parted company with your chair, Ian Watmore, after only a year in the job. I’d like to toss my hat in the ring, although I recognise I’m on the boundary down at third man on this one.
When you last advertised the role I had a couple of chats with your headhunter. He persuaded me I wasn’t what you were looking for. That you’d be inundated with good candidates. Guess you won’t be so inundated this time around.
And you might have changed your thinking on just what sort of leader you require for this great sport.
First off, let me get my skinny cricketing credentials out of the way. I play (very badly) once a year in an old boys match in which the barrel of real ale and the banter are almost as important as the tussle for the trophy, The Mashes.
I’m happiest down to bat at number 10 or 11, being overlooked as a bowler and taking up a long umpiring stint instead. I certainly couldn’t pick a Murali wrong ‘un.
Home is in Sussex, a county that boasts neither international matches nor The Hundred. The County Ground at Hove is only slightly closer than Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl which enjoys hosting both these lucrative products.
This contrast goes to the heart of your biggest challenge – how to level up the county game.
I love watching the England team. I was a sceptic about The Hundred, but I saw the light on a trip to the Ageas.
However, although it’s years since I was a teenage member at Middlesex, it is abundantly clear that you will destroy the fabric of the game if you don’t take better care of the counties. That’s only partly about money and much more about the structure of cricket’s summer.
Where will future generations of England cricketers and franchise picks for The Hundred come from if not from a vibrant county scene?
You are in the enviable position of having control of cricket at every level in England and Wales – and of being one of the international power trio alongside Australia and behind India.
But these are privileges that bring with them a responsibility to find solutions to the problems facing the sport that give fair weight to everyone’s interests, at home and abroad.
In my (mercifully few) darker moments as chair of UK Athletics I concluded that the best a governing body can ever hope for is not to be hated too much.
Too bleak an assessment, yes, but there is a kernel of truth in it. The best compromises must be found, and that is only possible if you can both listen and, having listened, show strong leadership.
Not everyone will be happy all of the time, but you can still earn respect (however grudging).
I spoke to a former chair of a leading county last week about your vacancy. He knows cricket and its politics intimately.
His read was that you need a moderniser who can respect the best of the past, as well as being able to support and guide your CEO, Tom Harrison – adding the rider ‘if he stays’. You’d do well to give him a call, if you haven’t already.
This doesn’t look like the impossible job some are touting it as. Far from it. In fact it looks like a fantastic one.
If you think I might be of interest, please let me know so I can track down Mike Atherton to take a detailed brief from him.
He’s been spot on in his analysis of off-field matters in recent months. I doubt you could prise him from the commentary box. Pity you can’t clone him.
I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Away from the sportswashing debate, the headline value placed on Newcastle United in the Saudi takeover looks low at £305m.
It’s not clear what levels of debt are also being assumed by the new owners, the Public Investment Fund – Mike Ashley personally was owed £107m in the last set of published accounts.
Nevertheless, this is a cheaper deal than the one recently mooted for West Ham United, which unlike Newcastle is only a lessee in its home, the London Stadium (admittedly with a very long, low rent contract).
This only goes to show what any corporate financier knows – that it is hard to extract full value in a sale when there is only one interested bidder.
Spot the spectator
I stumbled across the start of the Commonwealth Games baton relay last Thursday lunchtime. I tried to cross the Mall in central London but it was lined with barriers, police and men in hi-vis.
I asked one copper what was going on and he told me the baton was about to get on the move and that organisers had deliberately not publicised the event to discourage a crowd building.
And so there were many more members of the constabulary in evidence than spectators – a sad consequence of the pandemic.
But I also question why the relay is going ahead at all. How much is it costing (for Gold Coast 2018 it was over A$6m) and who is picking up the bill?
It will make no difference to ticket sales for Birmingham 2022 – early indications are that demand is very strong.
The Commonwealth Games is already struggling for future host cities. Better to show what a sleek Games looks like financially than plough on with unnecessary frippery. Ultimately, it’s about the sport.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com.