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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Boxing Day tests not sacred ?

Both The Australian and The Age have recently reported that there is talk of reallocating Boxing Day tests so that South Africa gets a better chance to benefit from holiday season crowds when it plays Australia at home.

Sure, no test fixture dates are sacred, though Melbourne's Boxing Day match and Sydney's New Year have come pretty close to being so. If the South Africa wants a home test every Boxing Day, why can't its visits to Australia be rescheduled so that it tours earlier or later (as India is doing in 2007 - 2008) in the summer. This would be a pity in some ways, as South Africa generally provides a competitive series, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. I also thought that test cricket was not well supported in the Republic, but maybe that's partly because matches aren't played at times when the crowds are able to turn up...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Not a mickey mouse acquisition, I hope

Cricinfo, the pioneering and for so long the leading cricket internet website, has been acquired by ESPN a Disney company. The implications of this are unclear, though Cricinfo itself is, as you'd expect in the circumstances, optimistically upbeat about its future. I shall certainly hope that it doesn't change into a mickey mouse site.

Inelegance of reversal matched only by inaccuracy

A storm in a teacup has blown up about the comments allegedly made by England captain Michael Vaughan about Andrew Flintoff in a recorded interview with The Guardian .

The paper has stood its ground, with sports editor Ben Clissit pithily deprecating any suggestion that Vaughan was misquoted: "the inelegance of his reversal at lunchtime [after a meeting with Flintoff] was matched only by its inaccuracy."

Notwithstanding this, Flintoff insists that there is no rift between him and Vaughan. Some people will believe this.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Was it really this good?

Official reports have confirmed what most cricket followers suspected, namely that last season's Ashes tour was an economic windfall (well, perhaps a bit more predictable than a windfall) for Australian cricket and the Australian economy. Whether it was quite so beneficial as Cricket Australia and SACA 's media releases suggest , is, IMO, another matter.

An extract from the SACA media release:

A major economic study shows the international cricket program, including the Ashes Test match, created $58.5 million in economic impact, as well as 132 extra jobs and brought more than 11,500 visitors to the state.

The URS Economic Impact Study (EIS), commissioned by Cricket Australia, highlights the enormous financial impact of the cricket season. It shows the average international tourist stayed in Adelaide and regional South Australia for an average of more than 10 days – the highest of any State during the Ashes series – and spent an average of $6,489 per person.

An estimated 4,500 international visitors and 7,000 interstate visitors attended the Adelaide Test match over the 5 days, with the official Test match attendance of 136,761.

The consolidated direct economic impact on South Australia of the Ashes Test match was $53.52m, of this $48m was the result of international visitors, and $5.52m was the result of interstate visitors.

The estimated impact on Gross State Product or State Value Added of the Ashes Test was $8m, which is estimated to have created an additional 132 full-time jobs.

SACA Chief Executive Michael Deare said the study revealed how important international cricket was to the South Australian economy, and supported the SACA’s decision to continually improve the Oval’s corporate and sporting facilities.

“The direct economic impact of international cricket during the 2006-07 summer of $58.5m means cricket is in excellent shape, when compared to the $30m contribution from this year’s Clipsal 500, about $16m from the 2007 Tour Down Under and around $8m through the Rugby World Cup in 2003,” Mr Deare said.

“The statistics validate our long term plans for the Oval, and certainly reinforce the recent decisions of both the State and Federal governments in providing funding for the SACA’s ongoing redevelopment program.”

The One Day International cricket matches in January contributed an additional $5m in direct economic impact.

Nationally, the 2006-07 3 mobile Ashes Test Series and Commonwealth Bank One-Day International Series generated $317 million for the Australian economy and created 793 jobs, according to the report, which was released today by Tourism Minister Fran Bailey and Cricket Australia.

“Cricket is simply marvelous for jobs and tourism. Our boys not only did a fabulous job in winning back the Ashes, but helped to create hundreds of new jobs and attract thousands of tourists to our shores," Ms Bailey said.

Many of these stats appear to my untutored (in economics) eye to be very elastic, if not downright rubbery. What, for example, has happened to the 132 full time jobs created by the Adelaide Test? Were they full time just for the five days of the test (if that long) or have they continued beyond then? How many of them still exist?

I could go on, but much as I dislike what appears to be blatant gilding of the lily, I agree that the Ashes series has tremendous popular appeal. I therefore can't understand why, in an age when we hear so much about the importance of market forces, the authorities don't schedule Ashes series more frequently. A century ago England toured Australia about every two years. Yes, there were fewer test playing nations then, but nowadays it seems that the authorities dance to the tune of Indian media interests
instead of looking out of their corporate box windows and asking themselves why, if a particular contest (the Ashes) trumps the game (cricket), the contest can't be held more frequently.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Conservative cricketers and a worthy job for a former PM?

In The New Statesman former England captain turned journalist Mike Atherton reviews a book by cricket tragic and former British Prime Minister turned historian John Major. Mr Major is not the first prime minister to have written a history of cricket (Norman Manley of Jamaica preceded him). Atherton's praise for Major's book is so strong that there might be another, current, PM who could take heart from the two men who have shown that there may be an enjoyable and possibly lucrative life after politics.

Atherton says "
Most cricketers of my acquaintance in the 1980s and 1990s were conservative, with a small and large "c". " Was, and is, this true of Australian first class and test cricketers then, and of course now? I'll reserve my judgment.

Here is the review:

Major innings

More than a Game: the story of cricket’s early years

John Major
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 416pp, £25

ISBN 000718364X

Nothing is guaranteed to irk professional sportsmen more than the feeling that they are being used as political pawns. So when Tony Blair, despite never having shown any interest in cricket before, decided that some of the glory of England's 2005 Ashes victory might rub off on an administration mired in the Iraq war, the underwhelming response from England's cricketers was predictable. The subsequent drenching given to Downing Street's rose bushes was more than simply the result of a few too many celebratory drinks.

Cricketers felt on safer ground with John Major. Most cricketers of my acquaintance in the 1980s and 1990s were conservative, with a small and large "c". Perhaps this relationship between cricketers and the Conservative Party is inevitable given that both promote the power of the individual over the whole - although, in truth, what limited political conversation there was in the dressing room tended to focus on the level of taxation. Self-interest was paramount, and the Tories were the high priests of low taxation.

More than that, though, players knew that Major was a cricket man at heart. Cricket was there for him long before his rise to the top - his family's move to Brixton enabled him to watch regularly his Laker and Lock of long ago; cricket was there for him during his years of power - he attests to many cabinet meetings interrupted by the passing round of slips of paper laden with the latest scores; cricket was there for him as he left the stage - he sought solace at the Oval the day he was voted out of office; and cricket has been there for him ever since.

The greatest cricketers often write the least good books. The converse is also true, and might be said, too, of prime ministers - Major's political memoirs being regarded as among the best of the genre. Given his previous literary record, then, and his deep love of the game, there must have been high hopes for this book. It does not disappoint. It is a fine, scholarly work.

Major's passion for the game does not dupe him into looking at cricket's past through rose-hued spectacles, however. The hard, disinterested historian's eye is the prism through which this cricketing history is told. Corruption, cheating, gambling, sledging, drinking (in 1787, the treasurer of the famous Hambledon CC was asked to provide "six spitting troughs" and a "hogshead of the best port" for immediate consumption) and even death were cricket's companions long before Kerry Packer's revolution in the late 1970s brought rampant com- mercialism and worldwide professionalism to the game.

This is the story of cricket's early years, from its rough, peasant beginnings somewhere around the middle of the 16th century to the beginning of the First World War, when even cricket had to take a prolonged tea break. While cricket was played by all classes, it thrived under aristocratic patronage, and gradually the rules and regulations that appear so arcane to non-converts came into being. County cricket flourished with increased leisure time, improved transport and a nascent sporting press, so that by the turn of the 20th century, cricket had become part of the fabric of English life - the national summer game.

The title of the book is taken from Tom Brown's Schooldays. Towards the end of the novel, Tom, as captain of the first XI, says to a schoolmaster, "it's more than a game. It's an institution." Major rightly points out that this Victorian mythologising of the game - the book was written in 1857 - was "artificial" and "hypocritical", coming on the back of a period when gambling and match-fixing were out of control. Neither the game nor the people who play it have ever been pure.

But the Victorian cleansing clearly worked. Major might have gone on to say that, by 1921, Lord Harris was able to claim that cricket represented the value system of a whole nation. The phrase "it's not cricket", Harris said, was "in constant use on the platform, in the pulpit, in parliament and the press, to dub something as being not fair, not honourable and not noble. What a tribute for a game to have won!" For Major, and thousands of others, cricket is more than a game. It is cricket's greatest strength, and current administrators would do well to remember it.

Major achieves two things with his cricketing history (the first by a prime minister since Michael Manley's A History of West Indies Cricket). Putting to rest the embarrassment he apparently felt frequently in office about his lack of a university education, this book proves him to be a first-rate scholar and writer. Second, as the self-effacing anecdote on page 147 confirms (Major being the only person, according to Jim Swanton, to recognise a portrait in the Long Room at Lord's of Benjamin Aislabie), he shows himself to be one of the nation's foremost cricketing tragics. Andrew Flintoff would never have relieved himself in John Major's garden.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sledging

Warwick Hadfield, ABC RN's estimable breakfast program sporting commentator, has produced an interesting survey of sledging in (mostly, but not entirely Australian) sport. You can listen to or download the program (at least for the next few weeks) or read the transcript here.

I was particularly interested to see his (and Ian Chappell's) view of the origin of the term:


According to Ian Chappell, the former Australian test captain and a bloke who in his time did a fair bit of sledging, the term for insulting an opponent to get him or her to break their concentration is named after the singer Percy Sledge.

Back in those more genteel times, off the field at least, a bloke who swore in front of a woman was dubbed a Percy, or a Sledge. These days they are called comedians.