I’ve had a tough summer so far on behalf of readers, dragging myself from Ashes to Ashes – a day at each of the five men’s Tests plus one of the women’s T20s.
From the maddening Rubik’s Cube of ticket application ballots last autumn, through the tyranny of rail strikes, to the final dose of cricketing contrasts at the Oval as Bazball broke down Zzzball. And all over before August so as to accommodate the fool’s gold that is The Hundred. What do we know now about cricket that we might not have fully appreciated six and a half weeks ago?
The Ashes brand remains incredibly strong – sufficient certainly to encompass the women’s as well as traditional men’s series
Ashes to Ashes
A compressed set of five men’s Tests may be hard on players’ minds and bodies but is great for fans, creating a powerful narrative with momentum.
The women’s format needs adjusting. Starting with the single Test gives its losing side a mountain to climb. Move it to between the T20s and ODIs. Better still, leave it at the start and put a second Test at the end, to balance point-winning opportunities.
Don’t tinker with the narrative about retaining versus recapturing the Ashes. So what if a drawn series means one side ‘wins’ and the other ‘loses’ in Ashes terms? It works nicely, just as it does for the Ryder Cup. Even if the actual urn never leaves the Lord’s museum.
Don’t add reserve days. ‘Managing’ the weather is an integral part of the captaincy challenge.
The human frailty of umpires has been laid bare. Too many decisions were reversed on review. Technology needs to have a bigger role in future – assuming of course that it is genuinely accurate. And make its decisions quicker.
Match fee fines do not solve the problem of glacial over rates. Look to Major League Baseball which has sliced an hour off average game times this season by introducing a pitch clock. Penalise bowlers with free hits if they don’t start their run-ups within a set time after the previous ball is dead. And limit batters’ nonsensical mid-session equipment changes and impromptu drinks.
Ashes trumpeter turn down?
Headingley needs serious investment; Edgbaston has the best atmosphere; Lord’s feels as though the game’s administrators are seriously out of step with today’s fans (and that’s nothing to do with the Jonny Bairstow stumping farrago); the Barmy Army trumpeter now seems institutionalised rather than authentic – time to be dropped?
The unpredictability of the game remains its joyous, beating, propulsive heart – especially over the long cycles from session to session and from day to day. And indeed from match to match.
Sour cream and onion Pringles (the ones in the green tin) are the salty snack of choice for the endurance challenge of series watching.
Certainly, Australia proved England men’s aggressive, entertaining style of play can be neutralised. Time will tell whether other countries adopt the English way, the Aussie approach or something in between. Or whether they can even be persuaded to pay greater attention to the red ball game, sufficient to ensure Test cricket remains more than just the Ashes.
We don’t know either if these twin Ashes series have whetted appetites for The Hundred this month, or whether the third year of this divisive competition will see it extend its second year slide in attendances and attention.
My bet is The Hundred will pass largely unnoticed and very much under-loved this summer. The sooner it is scrapped the better. Let’s have the 2027 Ashes across six and a half weeks of school summer hols please – now that my mates and I have grandkids to introduce to the game.
Might as well face it
Yet another takeover of Charlton Athletic FC. It’s as if The Addicks are addicted to change. Or perhaps to crisis. The announcement of the club’s acquisition by the grandly titled Global Football Partners consortium contained a bullish quote from member Charlie Methven, last seen by most of us as a focal, colourful boardroom figure in Netflix’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die, which set the standard for fly-on-the-wall sporting docu-series.
There are seven new shareholders with stakes over 5 per cent in Charlton, plus an unstated number of smaller investors. They have a smorgasbord of backgrounds, this is yet another example of the trend to spread ownership of clubs broadly – reflecting both the fashionable allure of the industry in spite of its many disasters, plus the considerable financial commitment needed to compete, even lower down the league pyramid.
The recent innovative study of football finances by LCP, flagged in a recent Sport inc., argued that a single dominant shareholder in a club represents a heightened financial risk to it. Brighton was singled out as an example, given its dependence on chairman Tony Bloom’s wallet.
For me, though, the devil is very much in the detail, as a consortium has the potential to be both unwieldy and a block to future funding. The right single owner is preferable to the wrong gang, cobbled together in a rush of deal adrenaline but whose members turn out to have differing ambitions, investment timescales and depth of pockets when the time comes – as it invariably does – for follow-on investments. Progress may be at the pace determined by the most cautious and/or poorest partner.
Corporate financiers earn a living from constructing multi-investor, private takeovers across industries. Any shareholder agreement will run through the bankers’ lexicon: tag-along rights, follow-on rights, general partnership interests versus shareholding percentages, rights of veto and pre-emption. None of which are straightforward to navigate when the pressure is on. And pressure and football go hand in hand.
Tottenham Hotspur has stated that last October Joe Lewis ceded control of the family trust that is effectively the club’s majority owner. Students of stock markets might find interesting the full insider trading indictment filed against him last week by the US Department of Justice. It’s quite the charge sheet. Lewis has pleaded not guilty.
Paint your wagon
Good to see that the female F1 Academy series will have cars in the liveries of the ten F1 teams next season. These brands can’t afford to be undermined by a weak product, which bodes well for a more serious commitment to female drivers than F1 has shown to date. But these re-painted cars need to be visible alongside the pinnacle men’s races. So, they need to race on all the leading grand prix weekends with broadcast deals sewn in.
From my British perspective, F1 will be failing its Academy – and female drivers – if there isn’t a race at Silverstone next year that is broadcast by Sky with highlights on C4.
Regular readers will know my scepticism that France will excel in the medal tables at the Paris Olympics and Paralympics. I’m very happy to share a contrary view from the analysts at Gracenote who regularly forecast medal outturns. They predict a third place finish for France in the Olympics, up from eighth in Tokyo, and the nation’s best Games since 1900 – funnily enough, held in Paris. Britain down to a predicted fifth wouldn’t be a surprise, but I don’t mind wagering a bottle of Nyetimber sparkling versus one of Veuve Clicquot that Team GB will edge their old rivals across La Manche.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com