Time for a Change

One of the things that unites most of the cricket fans I know is a shared frustration with the administration of the game we love. For years we’ve seen the interests of fans sidelined in favour of the pursuit of power and money, with cricket suffering as a consequence, and in many ways it has felt as if the game is being wrested from us.

Earlier this week I went to see the film “Death of Gentleman”, which draws on that frustration through the journey made by Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins, a journey that starts out by questioning whether and/or why test cricket is dying and ends up investigating the stench of corruption around those at the very top of the game. The end result is a thought-provoking film that makes you laugh at times but, ultimately, uncontrollably angry at the custodians of the game (if you weren’t already). It’s powerful stuff and I genuinely think that “Death of a Gentleman” should be mandatory viewing for anyone that loves and fears for test cricket. Excellence of the film aside (and I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it yet, except to say that you can see my head in it at one point), it also has a crucial side effect of spawning the start of a movement for change.

Watching ”Death of a Gentleman” I was reminded of a time, over a decade ago, when a group of us (including Ian and Tom) started a short-lived cricket fanzine. It looked at many of the same issues being discussed today (it was around 2003 when Twenty20 first came on the scene), specifically within the UK, and one of the ideas mooted was some sort of a fans’ organisation. The idea behind that wasn’t akin to a competitor to the Barmy Army, but instead something that went beyond England and international cricket but represented supporters of counties too.

That idea never came to fruition – back in 2003 the Internet was nowhere near as omnipresent or accessible as it is now, and so geographical borders were still a barrier to a global movement, but here in 2015 it is a wholly different story. Now it is possible to see how the issues in county cricket are replicated at test level and how the administrators of both are intrinsically linked. For every English – and Welsh – cricket fan that has complained about the ECB’s Giles Clarke over the years there are hundreds in India who have railed against N. Srinivasan. Both have drawn on their own privilege to make domestic, and then international cricket, their own private members’ club in which they, together with Wally Edwards of Australia, pull all of the strings at the expense of the rest of the world’s cricket boards.

“Death of a Gentleman” focuses the mind on those similarities, as well as the scandalous pursuit of money ahead of spreading the global reach of the game – the latter is surely what custodians should be bound to do – and urges fans to work together for change. It’s early days but the changecricket.com website has a petition you can sign and on Thursday 20th August, the first day of the final Ashes Test, a three minute silent protest (one minute for each of the elite boards) is planned outside the Hobbs Gates at the Oval at 10am.

Why is this important? Well, if you live in the UK and have bought a ticket for an international match in recent years then you’ll probably have noticed that it was pretty expensive, the increases meaning that many fans have been priced out at the expense of corporates. The ECB will claim – on a technicality – that this is not down to them, but without going into the details, their bidding system to stage games is at the very root of the increases in test and ODI match prices. In turn, this expands the brand (yes, brand, it is so wrong for sport isn’t it?) that the ECB has built, and the growing number of series against the big draws of Australian and India (coincidentally the other two boards running world cricket). In short, it maintains and builds upon the power base that exists. Conversely, if you are a West Indies or a Bangladesh fan (amongst others) then you’ll have fewer tests against the big three, and the series you do get will be pushed into as short a period as possible. These things may seem a far cry from the deals that go on at the ICC in Dubai but they are the products of those handshakes and agreements, the consequences for you and me as fans.

Arguably neither a petition nor a protest outside a cricket ground will do much to change the power base of cricket, but the important thing for me is that it’s a start, and all movements need to start somewhere. I can’t be there myself on Thursday, instead I shall have to settle for three minutes of contemplation at my desk, but I hope that lots of fans do turn up and send a signal, however small, to those running the game. And more than that I hope that this is just the beginning, because a movement to try and change cricket for the better is something that I really, really want to get behind: let’s #changecricket.

Only here for the cricket

With the Ashes only hours away it’s getting increasingly difficult to work out whether there is a circus coming to town or the cricket, such is hype and the silliness. News of an opening ceremony does nothing to quell this; has self importance reached such a level that a test series is masquerading as the Olympics?

Its unlikely that Danny Boyle has been brought in to curate the ceremony but the gradual shift from players simply walking out, to Jerusalem before home tests, to a whole host of anthems being sung, and now this, shows the clear direction of those marketing the game: razzmatazz first, cricket second.

In some ways this is echoed by the crowds at tests in the UK. Once the reason for shelling out on tickets was to watch the cricket, but, for what seems to be an increasing number, the main objective it is now to get on TV in a fancy dress costume or by building the biggest beer snake ever seen.

It’s not a phenomena reserved for cricket, Wimbledon too is having its moments. That was brought home during Andy Murray’s game against Andreas Seppi at the weekend: everyone is used to partisan crowds, and doubtless they help players, but suddenly there’s a group of twenty-somethings dressed identically in pink t-shirts, each bearing a letter of #MURRAY on their chest. It got them on TV, not just once but multiple times, but the problem was their order: first it was “AMURRY” then “#MURY” and then a whole host of different combinations, none of which was correct.

On the plus side this apparently illiterate but media-hungry group was in the back row and so they didn’t get in the eyeline of other fans, but that isn’t always the case. Come Saturday at the Swalec the likelihood is that some poor soul (and I hope it isn’t me) will be sat right behind a group of giant bananas in pyjamas and instead of a view of the pitch, gets a pointy, furry head in their face. Up in the Sky commentary box Bumble will wax lyrical about the costumes on show, but that’s easy to do from the comfort of a perfect view of the ground.

Even worse than the walking fruit, vegetables and cartoon characters though are the beer snakes and Mexican waves. Throughout the summer the TV cameras will focus on people – who have spent upwards on £75 for a ticket – putting all their efforts into stacking plastic pots and balancing ‘snakes’ several metres high for their own amusement. Anyone stuck behind the stacking and balancing will be less amused though, as they struggle to get a view of the match they have paid to watch, while those in front risk the thing collapsing on top of them (and, believe me, a shower of beer dregs is not a fun experience).

Mexican waves (not actually Mexican, but that poor nation has been saddled with the name) are another bugbear. If people want to stand up, wave their arms and throw torn up paper about then there are better places than a cricket ground. Like their own garden, or a park. But no, they do it in the ground, ruining the view for everyone else.

Is it all harmless fun? I suspect it is for those that indulge but everyone else has spent £75 for a ticket too and a bit of consideration for those that do want to watch the game would go a long way. Grounds have a role to play too; most have “No stacking” signs around the stadium to discourage beer snakes but, with the glorious exception of Lord’s, these rules are rarely enforced.

I have my own solution, which draws on the “no tolerance” seen at Lord’s but puts it to good use. First of all, fancy dress. If it doesn’t affect other spectators views of the pitch then it’s not a problem but if there’s a huge novelty head, which means those behind can’t see, then that head has to be taken off. Yes, I know they are now unlikely to get on the telly, but this is about cricket not a group of engineering students dressed as Tellytubbies. Anyone that doesn’t comply gets to wear their fancy dress down to the pub instead.

Beer snakes: three strikes and you are out. One initial warning, one final warning, then gone – before the thing reaches any height at all and disturbs other spectators. If it’s a group getting involved then they all go.

Mexican waves are the hardest to police but I’d take a hard line and throw out any spectator(s) starting one. In an ideal world it would be anyone participating, but there may not be enough stewards in the world for that.

Anyone thrown out for one of these misdemeanours gets their ticket confiscated and redistributed to families in the local area who can neither afford a ticket for the game nor the luxury of a Sky Sports subscription. In one fell swoop watching cricket is a much more pleasant experience for those in the ground and something that becomes available to those who wouldn’t normally get a chance to watch an international game. All I need to do now is get myself in charge of the game and sort this out.