Charlie Randall Cricket Cricket News & Views Wed, 13 Nov 2013 11:13:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ECB premier league vision fades with Home Counties break-up Sat, 09 Nov 2013 22:43:24 +0000 The ECB’s drive to bolster professional cricket by focusing on a premier league structure has been quietly shelved, and there have been suggestions that the policy has actually been reducing the number of active players in club cricket, with standards in decline during the recession.

Lord MacLaurin’s celebrated report Raising The Standard, published in 1997, wanted to see a wider base of players available to county cricket along Australian grade cricket lines. The envisaged pathway was premier clubs and the 38 county boards – plus county second XI – but this has proved unsustainable.

There was real evidence that priorities in the shires had changed when Hertfordshire clubs decided to leave the Home Counties Premier League, splitting one of the country’s strongest set-ups in half. Days later Farnham Royal CC announced they were withdrawing from the league, owing to an exodus of players.

There was general tweeting consternation when the realisation dawned that the semi-professional league would lose its eastern sector in 2015, leaving behind the Thames Valley and Cherwell clubs in the west.

Monday, 28 October, was the landmark date when Hertfordshire voted 19-5 to quit, a surprisingly wide margin that seemed to say ‘enough is enough’. Formed in 2000, the Home Counties pyramid gradually began to draw in clubs from the edge of Essex in the east to the far side of Oxfordshire in the west, raising the prospect of a three-hour round trip in some cases. The quality of cricket was often high, but at the very start it was clear that travel time and petrol cost might become an obstacle to acceptance.

From the Hertfordshire snapshot, some evidence emerged of participation shrinkage, and the Club Cricket Conference, an organisation dedicated to increasing the number of cricketers, has expressed concern at the premier league burden. Clubs already shoulder the responsibility of mass youth development to fill the void left by the collapse of the game in state schools.

Alf Langley, the CCC chairman, said: “High quality players, perhaps with family responsibilities, might not have time to play the 120-over format, the original premier league model. Quite a number of leagues are introducing 50-over games, and it seems to us that the objectives must now switch from identifying players for professional cricket to encouraging enjoyment for the vast majority within a sensible budget.”

Paul Cunnington, the Farnham Royal chairman, explained why his club had opted out of Division Two West after most of the first team left for a variety of reasons at the end of the 2013 season. Noting that the gap between first and second teams had become too wide, he said: “To remain playing at the same level nearly a whole new first team requires recruiting, and at this level new players will expect to be paid. Given we are in the process of buying the freehold of the ground, the committee have decided this is not a sustainable option.”

Undoubtedly playing standards and facilities at club level have improved, but the recruiting gap between county cricket and the recreational sector remains as wide as ever. Thanks mainly to Sky broadcasting income, professional cricket has turned to youth academies, not premier leagues, and the usual county age-group squads to source players.

Paul Bedford, the ECB official with responsibility for recreational cricket, agreed that the landscape had changed. He said that county second XI cricket had been strengthened by better funding. The premier league structure, costing about £400,000 a year in hand-outs, had driven up the quality of facilities as planned, but the main focus had been redirected. “Clubs now provide a high-quality environment to enable young players to progress,” Bedford said. The hoped-for direct link with county cricket was never made.

Ian MacLaurin, a fine batsman in his days at Welwyn Garden City CC before diverted by his glittering career at Tesco, had a vision for strengthening the England game when he became ECB chairman. His club cricket reasoning seemed sound enough, but in practice his hopes were never going to be realised.

The thrust of Lord MacLaurin’s ECB report was to harness club cricket more effectively. Amid a raft of other reforms, his report said: “The network of premier leagues will provide a greatly enhanced standard of competition for the top 2,000-plus recreational cricketers.”

“Above this network of leagues there is a need to provide the best possible refining feeder system in the first class game. At the moment the only real feeder for first class cricket is the Second XI circuit which is, in the main, a closed shop made up of contracted professionals.”

The report noted there was a “real desire” to see smaller county staffs. “There are too many contracted players who have no real chance of playing first-team cricket on anything like a regular basis.”

This was true. The ECB funded well over 300 full-time professionals in the 18 counties, too many of them mediocre. The Board believed the time had arrived to open up the game so that the finest club players had the best chance of progressing to the professional level – hence the focus on premier league clubs and county boards. “When the time is right, the 38-county competition will completely replace Second XI cricket as the feeder for the first class game. The objective is for this to be achieved by the year 2000.” Pie in the sky, as we now know.

In December 2004, seven years later, doubts were being raised about the MacLaurin club and county board strategy. A report headed by David Dolman, under the title of Strategic Plan For Cricket, found that the function and performance of county boards varied and that there was a “lack of clarity” in their purpose.

Dolman’s report reckoned that the clubs and the professionals were still miles apart. “Several stake holders, representing the view of community cricket, stated that the first class counties were not interested in club cricket, and in particular premier league cricket, although this was strongly refuted by some of the first class county chief executives.”

The report’s sole conclusion on this point was: “The game is perceived to be fractured and comprises two distinct ‘camps’ at the present time, with little empathy between each.” And the role of county boards had not advanced beyond providing coaching resources and organising age-group development.

In financial terms the value of the ECB’s county 2nd XI and academy set-up is still questionable, but there is no evidence that even the premier league super-clubs are especially beneficial to the professional circuit beyond producing age-group players. For example, Ealing have long dominated the Middlesex League, Wimbledon in Surrey, Preston in Sussex; York have been the strongest club in the Yorkshire League for years; High Wycombe and Henley have almost monopolised the Home Counties League titles; Finedon-Dolben won the Northants League 10 times in the first 13 seasons from 1997. Achieving high status is laudable without reference to county cricket.

The Club Cricket Conference is concerned about any financial damage caused by the ECB league network. The introduction of better competition from 1997 encouraged clubs to stretch their budgets by embracing a fixture list of all-day games and perhaps spending on semi-professional players – sometimes significant amounts that a small club could not sustain. Langley said: “We certainly applaud the competitive sharpness of league cricket and the better facilities, but there has to be a limit and a more flexible attitude towards the format. Commitment isn’t restricted to player fees or petrol costs. Providing team lunches, for example, is compulsory in the all-day matches and can be expensive.”

In 2013 the gap between club and professional county remains as wide as ever. So this has left the original purpose of the premier league network open to question. The ECB concede as much. Nowadays the best part of the Maclaurin vision is that club players have become accustomed to a high level of cricket in good facilities.

The Herts disaffection with the Home Counties pyramid seems to underline the CCC concerns. A number of past and present players tweeted their despair at the break-up of the Home Counties Premier League, a seemingly perfect ECB model, but they did not take into account the reality of running cricket clubs. The standard had been high, perhaps as high as any league in the country. It was true that Henley and High Wycombe, two clubs with funding for semi-professional players, tended to dominate, but other clubs could at least enjoy aspiring to the heights…

The tweeting omitted to mention that the best young players could still reach their potential in minor counties and pro 2nd XI, not to mention occasional Club Cricket Conference representative games.

Sizeable financial deficits among some clubs, perhaps many, appeared after the wet 2012 season, and evidence emerged that standards were actually dropping, not improving. In October 2012 Barry Hellewell, secretary of the Saracens Herts League, issued a worrying report on the back of a club survey of Hertfordshire clubs in Home Counties Division One and Division Two East and the county’s top feeder league.

Hellewell said: “The imposition of the longer game within Home Counties Premier League, coupled with the consequent earlier start times and increased travel, has led to the more mature club player with family and perhaps job commitments not being able to afford the time to play at the top level and in many cases giving up the game altogether. The average age of most sides in the league has fallen dramatically over the last 10 years, and the general opinion is that the standard, certainly in Division Two East, has dropped.”

He added: “No Hertfordshire side has won Home Counties division one since its formation, and with the honourable exception of Welwyn Garden City in 2010, no side has come close. It may be that the larger ‘town’ sides from Bucks, Berks and Oxon, who have provided the winners, have larger catchment areas and/or can afford to pay ex-county pros and others handsomely.”

One factor that appears to have influenced the heavy Herts vote was disaffection with the management of the Home Counties League, judging from comments, and it was interesting that in response the Home Counties League committee called an extraordinary meeting to formally expel Hertfordshire clubs, scheduled for 13 November at High Wycombe. The reasoning was for a clean break as soon as possible to save Harpenden, North Mymms and Radlett from an uncertain 2014 in Division One.

The proposed Herts set-up expects to retain the sponsorship of  Saracens Rugby Club, strong supporters for many years, and it seems likely, in Bedford’s view, that the Herts and reshaped Home Counties will both be awarded premier status.

Radlett, with their chairman Tony Johnson doubling as chairman of the Herts League, issued a statement explaining the club’s decision to vote with the breakaway. Their reasons centred on “recruiting, producing and retaining high quality cricketers” and the split would leave the league free to look at innovations such as coloured clothing and a showpiece game at perhaps Lord’s or the Oval.

Johnson said: “Players want to be tested at the highest level, and while that is understandable it is not always sustainable.” His comment summed up perfectly the flaw in the MacLaurin vision and a drawback with the ECB premier league network.

This article has appeared on the Club Cricket Conference website


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Ackroyd’s etching sums up eccentric spirit of wandering cricket Sat, 09 Nov 2013 18:57:01 +0000 Norman Ackroyd – artist, Royal Academy powerhouse and occasional golf opponent of mine – once drew an evocative etching of a village scene and cricket match between Swinbrook CC and Lord Gnome’s XI.

Ackroyd depicts ‘the great match’ of 1986, a tie, but all is not what it seems, as a closer look reveals. This lovely etching is less about scenery and more about the artist’s bowling analysis of 7-55, which Ackroyd admits is a “disgraceful act of self-indulgence”. His medium pacers bowled out Swinbrook after the Gnome’s XI declaration at 197 for nine.

The Ackroyd anecdote is just one of countless quirks in a new definite book on wandering cricket called Gentlemen, Gypsies and Jesters; The Wonderful World of Wandering Cricket (Fairfield Books: £25), edited and written by Anthony Gibson and Stephen Chalke. The whole exercise, energised by the Cricket Foundation, is a treasure chest of reminiscence for cricket lovers.

Lord Gnome’s XI evolved from the Private Eye team when the supply of satirists and celebrities began to dry up. They had little trouble in attracting guest players, and the journalist Peter Gillman tried to pinpoint the ethos of wandering cricket.

Gillman wrote that Lord Gnome’s XI liked to win games as much as anyone and that they practised in winter nets. But he added: “We regard the after-match socialising as a key part of the occasion – drinking at our hosts’ bar rather than sloping off to the nearest pub. Since we usually umpired our own innings we made it a rule to walk for catches behind rather than risk embarrassing our umpire. We had one member who made it clear that he did not feel obliged to walk, so we always gave him out anyway.”

These comments would be echoed by many wandering clubs up and down the country, summing up the book’s sub-title The Wonderful World of Wandering Cricket. The cost of publishing to a high professional standard has been met by benefactors, more than 550 of them, ensuring that all profits go to Chance To Shine. The project has become a personal triumph for Simon Dyson, the charity’s commercial manager and former Wimbledon CC leg-spinner.

Dozens of wandering clubs are covered, including those now defunct. Every club has a story or two to tell, and the book recounts many many anecdotes in its pages, where name-dropping is unashamed and fascinating. A chapter is devoted to the Cricketer Cup, the high-octane old boys competition.

Most wandering clubs seem to be characterised by a common bond. A few remain exclusive, but most are not. To play for the Harlequins (founded 1852) – of Douglas Jardine fame – or the Quidnuncs (1851) a player has to be an Oxford or Cambridge graduate. Quite a few clubs have a literary, acting or media connection, without exclusivity, such as Invalids, Authors, Fleet Street Strollers, Woodpeckers and Heartaches, Tim Rice’s club with its own annual ‘Wisden’. One could add the Elvinos — not in the book – a group founded by Reg Hayter and Sun sports editor Frank Nicklin, who once fined disc jockey Ed Stewart, a good medium-pacer, two bob for impersonating an opening batsman after his innings against Torquay CC.

The Invalids were founded in 1919 by the leading literary figure JC Squire, later Sir John, and their antics almost certainly  inspired AG Macdonell’s account of the village cricket match in his book England, Their England. It is widely accepted that Mr Hodge, the visiting team captain in the story, was based on the eccentric Squire. The mischievous and not entirely sober Mr Harcourt was almost certainly JB Morton, better known as Beachcomber in the Daily Mirror. The list continues, and Macdonell’s account of the enormous quantity of beer consumed was entirely consistent with the Invalids. Cricket, in Squire’s words, provided “the exceptional opportunity of raising a thirst”.

In one match at Brook in Surrey it was Squire who lumbered off in pursuit of a leg-side hit when his trousers fell down. Neville Cardus once mentioned that when a shot was launched high in the sky, three Invalids fielders circled underneath and Squire, as captain, called out masterfully from slip “Thompson!”. All three fielders stopped and the ball fell to earth as Thompson wasn’t playing that day.

The Cryptics (1910) can boast two Prime Ministers as players – Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Bob Hawke, of Australia – though no doubt the Lords and Commons (1850) could top that as a phalanx of distinguished politicians have reached the crease. The Lords and Commons were involved in the most bizarre of last-ball last-pair finishes in their annual match against the Civil Service, called the Mandarins, at the Bank of England ground at Roehampton in 1975. Lord Orr-Ewing, the non-striker, set off like a hare as the bowler delivered, but the batsman Michal Latham, MP for Melton, missed and stumbled as he sought the winning run. Somehow Latham managed to knock himself unconscious by colliding with Orr-Ewing, the top of his head butting his partner’s aluminium box. When he came round several minutes later, a Mandarin fielder broke the wicket and appealed. “Not out,” said the umpire. “Surely you can see he has retired hurt.”

The Stoics (1877) were immortalised in 1886 when Andrew Stoddart, later an England captain, hit 485 against them for Hampstead CC in a total of 813, leaving no time for Stoics to bat. These were the days before declarations were permitted, and a change in the Laws followed three years later after farcical incidents in county cricket, which involved fielding sides trying to prevent batsmen from deliberately getting themselves out.

It is worth mentioning that many wandering clubs are affiliated to the Club Cricket Conference, and only recently the Nomads were rescued by the emergency fixture bureau after their scheduled opponents scratched.

By coincidence another book about village cricket was published at the same time with the same scene on the cover – the Barley Mow at Tilford Green. Our Beloved Cricket by Brian Scovell looks at wandering cricket through the eyes of the Woodpeckers and various media teams. Scovell, a former Daily Mail sports writer, claims to have played in 24 countries on more than 500 grounds, and his 26th book is a delight.

Wandering clubs seem to have toured in every conceivable part of the world, and the sense of fun permeates through the book. Though middle-age experience forms the backbone of many sides, plenty of young guns enjoy in this form of cricket. Perhaps club cricketers who have not tasted the carefree life could use the book as a sort of sales catalogue, make contact and go a’wandering. Strange things can happen.

Gentlemen, Gypsies and Jesters

by Anthony Gibson and Stephen Chalke (Fairfield Books: £25)

To order


Telephone: Stephen Chalke: 01225 335813

Post: 17 George’s Rd, Bath BA1 6EY

Other recommended recently published hardbacks:

Lost In The Long Grass by John Barclay (Fairfield Books; £15)

Micky Stewart and the Changing Face of Cricket by Stephen Chalke (Fairfield Books; £18)

Our Beloved Cricket by Brian Scovell (Fonthill; £18.99)

This article first appeared in the Club Cricket Conference website


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Shocking reminder that cricket can never be perfectly safe Wed, 30 Oct 2013 11:09:23 +0000 The recent death of a club cricketer, Darryn Randall, in South Africa proved to be one of the very rare occasions in these days of head protection where serious injury was sustained while batting.

Randall, 32, a youth cricket coach and former first class cricketer with Border, was playing a premier league game for Old Selbornians CC in East London when he missed an attempted pull and was knocked unconscious, the ball striking him on the side of the head. Despite the protection of a batting helmet, he could not be revived and died in hospital.
The widespread use of the batting helmet at club level has not eliminate injury, especially concussion and facial damage, but life-threatening head injuries have become almost unknown. The chest remains the most vulnerable area.
The Manchester cricket community would well remember the death of Tim Melville, 18, while batting for Wallasey CC in an under-21 game at Hyde in 2005. He was struck by a delivery on the chest near his heart and he collapsed at the crease. Despite first aid administered on the pitch, he was pronounced dead at Tameside Hospital. A similar incident more recently killed Mudasir Ahmad Matoo, 20, while batting in a game in Kashmir.
Matthew Prior, 13, was hit on the chest by a full toss while batting in a prep school match in Lydenburg, South Africa. A broken rib appeared to have pierced a lung and he died in hospital. Fortunately such serious incidents remain extremely rare for batsmen and makes sense of the law makers’ drive to deter his full tosses and beamers.
Fielders and bowlers have much less protection from injury beyond instinctive reaction. For example, many a short-leg fielder has been struck on the head or body, but fatalities remain almost unknown in club cricket, certainly since the death of Raman Lamba in 1998. The former India Test player, at 38, took a full-blooded shot on the head at short-leg during a local game in Bangladesh and later died. He decided to field unprotected for one ball to avoid delay after calling for a helmet.
Bowlers are vulnerable to broken fingers or worse. David Wilcockson, 71, was hit on the head by a fierce drive while bowling for the Surrey club Old Dorkinians in 2012. He went into a coma and died in hospital. At Porthleven CC in Cornwall an outfielder Derek Newman, 45, died after being struck by the ball while attempting a catch near the boundary in 2007.
All head injuries should be treated seriously, even mild concussion. There were reports from Queensland earlier this month of a man killed in a car crash that his family believed might have been connected with a cricket injury. Allen Johnson, 32, a local sportsman at Springsure, apparently suffered concussion after being struck above an eye, and later that night he veered off the road while driving and hit a tree.
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The Vatican’s new cricket club aims to reach the far corners Wed, 23 Oct 2013 10:11:40 +0000 The Vatican launched their cricket ambition in Rome this week – a powerful side, according to their publicity machine – and they intend to issue challenges to engage with other denominations and religions in 2014.

While it is surprising cricket has reached the Vatican, the game has become reasonably well entrenched in northern Italy, as the CCC tour party in September would attest. So the formation of a cricket club by Pope Francis is to be warmly welcomed, and the appearance of St Peter’s CC will be eagerly awaited, with the Church of England one of their main targets.

The Pontifical Council for Culture served up tea and cucumber sandwiches for the launch for added authenticity and said priests and seminarians – and eventually nuns – would have a new outlet for their sporting passions in the yellow and white colours of the Vatican flag.

Monsignor Melchor Sanchez, honorary president of St Peter’s CC, said the cricket team represented the council’s desire to go to the peripheries of the world that Pope Francis had spoken of. He hoped aloud for a game against the Anglicans in London, venturing Lord’s as a venue in September next year, the holiday month for seminarians in Rome. He said Hindu and Muslim teams of seminarians would be welcomed for matches, especially from India.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, informally known as the Vatican’s ‘culture minister’, said that a wave of immigration in Italy had brought many young aficionados of cricket to the country. “I never imagined cricket was so popular in Rome,” he said. “Cricket is alien to our culture, but it has become part of our culture as an expression of inter-culturality.”

The cricket chairman Theodore Mascarenhas, an Indian priest and apparently a good off-spin bowler, reckoned the Vatican could field a side “strong enough to beat anyone in the world,” and he joked: “I don’t think we’re lacking for spiritual direction or guidance.”

While Pope Francis is known as an avid football fan of San Lorenzo in his native Argentina, Mascarenhas said he was a “very open man” and that cricket would be part of that openness.

According to reports, preparations for a cricket club began about a year ago thanks in large part to the enthusiasm of Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, and his belief in “sporting diplomacy”. Estimates suggested there were between 250 and 350 potential players from around the world studying in clerical colleges in Rome.

The Capannelle CC ground outside Rome has been earmarked as the St Peter’s venue, and nets are available in Trastevere, near the Rome city centre. The slogan of the now defunct cricket equipment used by Tony Greig in his prime springs to mind: ‘Sportsmen get on famously with St Peter’.

The CCC enjoyed a six-match tour organised by the Italian Cricket Federation and hosted by Milan Cricket Club – the other MCC after Marylebone and Melbourne – under the captaincy of Mark Smith (Wimbledon CC) in September.

The CCC were struck by the enthusiam of their hosts and the unending generous hospitality. The opening fixture against Idle CC at Lodi was especially notable. The game was played on a reclaimed radish field and artificial strip surrounded by a dense maize field. The skill of the Italian side at retrieving the ball from this cultivated jungle would draw applause from the visitors.

Robbie Book, a supporter on the tour, commented: “The match undoubtedly served as a lesson for our younger players, who have only ever played in a league environment, in the difficulties experienced by clubs in the developing cricketing nations. Just to play a match means everyone must do everything – teas, wicket, outfield, boundary, changing room and so on. Rocking up to the ground, playing and going home is not in the truly amateur culture of Italian cricket.”

CCC tour party

Mark Smith (captain, Wimbledon CC) Zashan Arshad (Tring Park CC) Eddie Ballard (Bishop’s Stortford CC) Sam Burge (East Molesey CC) Joe Ellis-Grewal (Wanstead CC) Richard Hindley (Havant CC) Waqas Hussain (Slough CC) Imran Qayyum (Finchley CC) Jamie Southgate (Welwyn Garden City CC) Will Stickler (Tunbridge Wells CC) Edward Wharton (Hornsey CC) Richard Wharton (Hornsey CC) Coach: Min Patel Manager: Mark Stear Umpire: Steve Hodge Scorer: Geoff Knight

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ICC look at new tech to end chucking Wed, 29 Aug 2012 12:54:43 +0000 NEW “wearable” technology is to be introduced by the ICC to settle doubts about illegal actions, a problem that still occasionally hurts cricket, especially at international development level.

The ICC announced from Dubai this week that they had entered a second phase of an agreement with a consortium of high profile Australian cricket, sports science and sports engineering institutions to test the legality of bowling actions in match and training conditions.

In the past umpires have reported doubtful actions, and players have been suspended for remedial work, but borderline cases have not been satisfactorily settled by the ICC’s use of relatively crude technology. Muttiah Muralitharan in exasperation used his own ‘technology’ in 2004 — a plastercast on his right arm — to prove he could bowl his doosra and those huge off-spinners stiff-armed without a hint of a throw. This was not in the ICC street, effective though it was at silencing sceptics. The Sri Lankan achieved his turn with a strong shoulder action and double-jointed wrists. He looked as though he threw without actually doing so, hence the controversy.

The ICC have been working with experts to produce a process capable of measuring bowlers’ actions in a match environment. Known as inertial sensors, they employ similar technology to that used in iPads, mobile phones and car crash impact detection systems.

The ICC are expecting the technology to be light, cost effective and wearable on the bowler’s arm, not hindering performance while still allowing information about the throw-like features of an illegal action to be assessed in near real time in both match and training environments.

Bowlers under report for a suspicious bowling action are currently required to attend an ICC-approved biomechanics laboratory to assess the amount of elbow extension in their bowling action.

It seems as though, from the ICC news release, that the technology will eventually become widely available so that individual countries and elite centres can monitor their own players. Actions can be scrutinised and adapted without too much fuss and cost.

The research team comprises sport scientists and engineers from Griffith University’s centre for wireless monitoring and applications in Brisbane (Engineers Dr. Daniel James and Dr. Andrew Wixted), the Australian Institute of Sport’s biomechanics department in Canberra (Cricket Biomechanist Mr. Wayne Spratford) and Cricket Australia’s centre of excellence in Brisbane.

The project is being managed on behalf of the ICC by Praxis Sport Science Pty Ltd, an Australian-based sports science consultancy company headed up by Dr Marc Portus. Dr Portus was involved with the original research behind the 15 degree tolerance threshold for illegal actions when he worked as a Biomechanist for the Australian Institute of Sport and Cricket Australia.

The second phase of the three-phase project will conclude in late 2013 and is concerned with the technology’s measurement methods and precision against current laboratory protocols. In 2014 phase three will focus on making the technology more comfortable for players as well as maximising wireless data transmission and battery life.

ICC chief executive, David Richardson, said: “The ICC is keen to see this technology implemented in elite cricket and believe it will be a significant stride forward in detecting illegal bowling actions in match conditions.

“We would also like to see the technology used in training environments as a tool to help bowlers correct their flawed bowling action. We are encouraged by the progress made so far by the Australian research team and also acknowledge the MCC, who have made a significant financial contribution to the project.”

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Kaneria plight reflects wider ills Thu, 14 Jun 2012 12:59:51 +0000 THE former ICC Anti-Corruption and Security Unit director Ravi Sawani has this week submitted a report to the Indian cricket authorities as the result of a television ‘sting’ that appeared to show five players in the IPL willing to involve themselves in corruption. The affair has shown that the IPL is extremely vulnerable to manipulation in view of the enormous live television viewing figures and the wealth of the betting industry.

Sawani’s report on the IPL will be discussed by the Indian Board’s disciplinary panel at roughly the same time as the ECB will be assessing a disciplinary case against Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan leg-spinner mentioned by the judge at the Mervyn Westfield trial as a corruptor during his time at Essex.

Since then, Kaneria’s career has lingered under a cloud. The damage that suspicion could do to cricket was well illustrated by another corruption inquiry, this time in Karachi. Kaneria came under suspicion simply because he walked off the field with a side strain during a 20-over Super Eights match at Rawalpindi in March after bowling only four deliveries for 11 runs. His team Karachi Zebras suffered an upset defeat to Peshawar Panthers back, and an inquiry was launched when the Karachi manager later said he suspected spot-fixing and underperforming.

The accusation deflected credit from the victorious underdogs and from Riaz Afridi in particular for his four cheap wickets. Karachi City Cricket Association cleared Kaneria, though they announced after the hearing that the inquiry against other players, including former Pakistan batsman Hasan Raza, the captain, would continue.

In March a tweet made by Lalit Modi during his time as IPL commissioner, cost him £90,000 in libel damages at the Royal Courts of Justice in London and a legal bill many times that amount, even though the tweet had been seen by only 65 people. He had falsely claimed that Chris Cairns had been involved in corrupt activity, an assertion that was repeated in court and rejected by the judge as having no basis whatsoever on the evidence, but the worrying part of that case was an insight into the corruption that was going on elsewhere within the IPL.

No one needs reminding that in February this year Westfield was jailed at the Old Bailey for four months, including two months on licence, for accepting corrupt payment to underperform for Essex in a match. Last November the Pakistan players Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were sent to prison for various terms, guilty of cheating and accepting corrupt payments.

Another blot on cricket’s integrity has been removed to prison this week. Allen Stanford, the Texan ‘financier’, has been sentenced to 110 years in jail for one of the biggest frauds in history. He was convicted in March on 13 of 14 charges of defrauding investors of more than £4.5 billion in a ponzi scheme. Antigua-based, he pumped funds into 20-over cricket, most notably a series involving West Indies All Stars XI against England, an underhand deal that caused a furious argument between the West Indies Board’s official sponsors Digicel.

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Interpol offering reality check Sat, 17 Dec 2011 13:00:59 +0000 INTERPOL, the international policing organisation, have offered to help the ICC by taking steps to prevent organised crime from infiltrating cricket. This follows hard on the warning by the ECB this week that the domestic game in England remains vulnerable to corruption.

A cold draught has been blowing into the game since the Pakistan corruption case at Southwark Crown Court in November, when one half-expected giant screens to flash up “guilty” like a third umpire’s verdict. Reality is very much upon us.

Pakistan players Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were sent to prison, guilty of cheating and accepting corrupt payments. Their fixer Mazhar Majeed, the classic dodgy dealer, was given the longest sentence, two years eight months, for conspiring to cheat and for making corrupt payments. This was the first time that corruption had led to more than mere suspensions by the International Cricket Council. The events in London involved not just a trudge back to the pavilion but barristers… police… prison officers… cold walls…

And now the Interpol secretary general Ronald K Noble, on a two-day tour of India, has offered an arrangement to the ICC president Sharad Pawar and Indian Cricket Board vice-president Rajiv Shukla that would give them access to Interpol intelligence, as with football. FIFA agreed a 10-year deal for almost £13,000 in May to keep tabs on global betting and to monitor the activities of suspected match-fixing syndicates. With support from FIFA, an Interpol centre in Singapore is being planned to promote ‘integrity in sports’.

Noble described the meeting with Pawar and Shukla as “cordial” and “positive” and he added: “We would like to have a prevention programme put in place, when there are incidences of young players, agents and officials taking money to fix matches. We know these young players are easy targets.”

One should remember that Hansie Cronje, a self-confessed crook, was never prosecuted by the South African law enforcers for spot-fixing. The issue was funked and never progressed beyond the King Commission inquiry. The Pakistan fixing case in London became a landmark when the sanction was prison.

Bearing in mind that the Southward courtroom must have witnessed many cases of violent crime, lawyers had to talk hard to show that deliberately overstepping a white line for betting purposes in 2010 was a serious offence that produced victims. The prosecution succeeded in arguing that the viewing public, especially, did not deserve to be cheated while players enriched themselves on a separate bookmakers’ agenda. But was ‘acting’ cricket on brief occasions worth prison?

The former England batsman Geoff Boycott reckoned the authorities should lock up these people “and throw away the key”. As the fixer had had the gall in court to claim Boycott as his friend — they met in a hotel lobby once — one could predict his fury, but it is a safe bet that his suggestion will not reach the statute book.

Mr Justice Cooke spoke of the damage to the “image and integrity” of cricket and the betrayal of followers of the game. He said he would have heavily extended the two-year six-month sentence given to Butt, the captain, as a clear deterrent if the player had not been already banned from cricket for five years.

To me, one of the sourest aspects was the conspiracy that gave Butt power. The position of the incorruptible Shahid Afridi as captain of the Test team became untenable when undermined by a nucleus of players, including a few not on trial, so that the Pakistan Board was hoodwinked into promoting Butt for the series in England last year. The jury heard how Afridi’s presence made fixing very difficult and that the gang needed him out of the way. So here was one victim at least. It was not just about a white line.

Watching sport — events that matter when they do not really matter — requires suspension of disbelief for enjoyment. A bottle of beer thrown at a television screen by an over-emotional viewer might be the extreme example, but integrity lies at the heart of all sport. In my view athletes caught cheating with performance-enhancing drugs should be jailed just like the cricketers. The athletics and cycling authorities should have called in the police a long time ago. And they still have not. With soft suspensions the only deterrent, the moral aspect is now dreadfully distorted. The thinking has changed. To some athletes — and to some lawyers, one imagines — drugs are only no-go if they are officially banned. New dope is fine until the authorities update the list…

Individualistic sports such as tennis and snooker have been long vulnerable to corruption, but the advent of spot-betting on live television — wagers on small events such as wides or no-balls during play — has brought cricket into focus, as with football. The key problem for cricket is that there is no regulation of the biggest gambling market, India and the subcontinental region, where betting is illegal. The boom in cricket has produced a multi-billion pound bookmaking industry where no suspicious betting patterns can be detected in the way that protects above-board bookmakers. Heavy wagers on an Amir no-ball at Lord’s, for example, would sound alarm bells in a regulated market outside Mumbai or Dubai.

Cricket is a quirky game built on justice while the fielding side gang up against the batsmen. Umpires make judgments, sometimes on appeal, and uphold the Laws. At international level the ‘third’ umpire waits in his studio, ready with cameras and infra-red detectors to adjudicate at an on-field umpire’s request. When camera back-up for run-outs and stumpings began in 1992, red and green lights were used for the verdict. Red meant ‘in’ at first before being changed to ‘out’. Almost inevitably the wrong button was once pressed by mistake, in Karachi in 1994, so that the South Africa batsman Dave Richardson was given out when he should have been in. Here was press-button injustice of the cruellest kind. But at least this was not a Crown Court.

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American captain on fraud charge Sat, 17 Dec 2011 01:33:33 +0000 STEVE Massiah made his United States debut with a rapid century against a Minor Counties XI at Stone in Staffordshire in 2000 before climbing the ladder to the captaincy. So this week’s news of his arrest and charge in New York with an alleged £32,000 mortgage fraud has stunned the American cricket community.

Massiah, 32, was one of three men accused of defrauding banks and mortgage companies through loan applications. An alleged co-conspirator was Ed Ahmad, a cricket enthusiast who sponsored the Ed Ahmad Caribbean Cup, New York’s premier tournament for four years to 2008. The Minor Counties XI, captained by Bryan Jones, would remember Massiah very well, as the former Guyana Under-19 batsman smashed a defiant 116 in 105 balls in a seven-run defeat at Stone. He could now miss the United States attempt to qualify for the World Twenty20 in Arab Emirates next March.

It is more than four years since the former England batsman Wayne Larkins was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence at Taunton Crown Court for his part in a £155,000 mortgage fraud involving the purchase of a holiday home in France.

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Yardy honest about depression Thu, 24 Mar 2011 01:37:12 +0000 THE Sussex captain Michael Yardy has disclosed he has been suffering from depression, a condition that led to his withdrawal from England’s World Cup campaign before the quarter-final against Sri Lanka in Colombo.

There were two interesting aspects to the ECB announcement. Firstly Yardy was referred to as an all-rounder, a description patently wide of the mark, and secondly it was unusual that such detail of his illness was mentioned.

Yardy himself went out of his way to ensure there was no need for speculation, as his depression illness was clearly cited. “Leaving at this stage of a World Cup campaign was a very difficult decision to make, but I felt that it was the only sensible option for me, and I wanted to be honest about the reason behind that decision,” he said.

The word ‘honest’ seemed pointed, and Yardy will avoid becoming the subject of wild rumours that blighted the departure of poor Marcus Trescothick from England’s tour of India in 2006. The ECB’s decision to wrap the Trescothick news with the mystery of “personal reasons” probably made his mental breakdown worse. His recovery was short-lived and led to a hasty break from the 2007 Ashes tour.

As for Yardy the ECB said that, after close consultation with their medical officers, after it was agreed that he should return home to Sussex immediately to receive the best possible advice and support. The statement added that he had been managing the condition for a “prolonged period of time”.

One of the reasons for England’s weak performances in the World Cup had been the use of Yardy as a bowler, something he rarely did at county level. His left-arm darts, a useful variation on occasions, fell well short of ‘full-time’ pedigree, and his batting in the middle order suffered as well. One can only imagine the stress on Yardy, a whole-hearted cricketer with many admirers. He would not regard himself as an all-rounder. The introduction into the side of James Tredwell, the specialist Kent off-spinner, made an immediate impact — he was man of the match against the West Indies.

Yady said after his return to England: “I would appreciate some privacy over the coming weeks while I spend time with family and close friends ahead of what I hope will be a successful season for Sussex.”

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Skipton real ale strong on appeal Mon, 14 Feb 2011 01:39:41 +0000 THE Skipton brewery Copper Dragon are producing another real ale brand with a cricket theme to build on the popularity of Fred Trueman Ale, named in the memory of the England fast bowler and launched a year ago in the north and midlands.

Fred Trueman is to be made available on draft, and the same hoppy amber brew will be sold under the name of Owzat outside the Trueman heartlands. Success in the World Cup for England over the next month would only improve the beer’s prospects.

Copper Dragon’s managing director Steve Taylor said that the four per cent strength Fred Trueman Ale, launched as a limited edition by Dickie Bird MBE, had been very popular in Yorkshire, given Fiery Fred’s close links and love of the region. “We’ve decided that the same ale will also be sold under the name of Owzat,” he said, “so that real ale drinkers without the generational or geographical affinity to Fred Trueman will have a choice as to what they order.

“It’s the first of five limited edition hand crafted ales that Copper Dragon will be launching in 2011, with the next creation currently being developed with a view to launching in May. It’s a perfect time to re-introduce the cricket theme after England’s impressive Ashes victory Down Under.”

Established as recently as 2002, Copper Dragon supplies hand crafted Best Bitter, Golden Pippin, Scots 1816, Challenger IPA and Black Gold cask ales to over 2,000 pubs throughout the UK

In 2008 Marston’s renamed one of their best beers ‘Old Umpire’ from Old Empire to mark the summer of Test cricket. Pints were tasted and approved by the ECB first class umpires, who visited the brewery in Burton during a pre-season training course.

Old Umpire was an extremely high-quality brew, 5.7 per cent golden coloured beer with a flavour described by the makers as “a tempting aroma of biscuity malt, floral hops, vanilla and toffee, with hints of citrus fruit, brewed in the style of an Indian Pale Ale.” If Owzat can match the flavour, drinkers with cricket affinity will be well served.

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