Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Is cricket the new football?

It's been a funny old summer. You have a team who produces their own stars, has a great academy, holds their own at a certain standard and then gets them all nicked. To be fair to the people of Southampton, many of our readership have been robbed by Liverpudlians over the years, but is the same happening in the cricketing world? Watching Nottinghamshire yesterday made me think that this is possibly the case. Is there now a widening gap between the haves and the have nots in the English county game?

Taylor...quality player
Southampton FC have produced some fine footballers over the years; Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wayne Bridge, Calum Chambers, Adam Lallana and many others. Before this their youth system produced the likes of Le Tissier, Channon, Shearer. As soon as they get too good they get pilfered. Not so much in the old days where they could compete much more fairly before television money got silly, and the likes of Channon and Le Tissier would stay with the Hampshire based club. In addition Shearer only went for a record fee, but these days money talks and as soon as they get above their pecking station, the hyenas and vultures circle. Not just on the pitch either, with their boss ending up just a few miles up the Seven Sisters Road from Walcott, Chambers and Co. In the city where the Titanic sailed from, famous for saying goodbye to a ship, they could be saying goodbye to the Premier ship, or even the Champion ship should recent history repeat itself.

Then I watched the East Midlands derby between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire yesterday. One a Test match hosting county, the other one who have had financial problems a plenty over recent years. Derbyshire, in European fiscal terms, are the Greece of cricket. Don't get me wrong, I like Nottingham people. They are good fun, a good laugh and warm. Trent Bridge is generally a good crowd, and they always turn out for a Test match. You don't see many empty seats there. However, in recent years they seem to have plundered the locality for the best players and it made me think that cricket is going the same way as football. The county famous for a bloke who robbed the rich to give to the poor, is more Sherriff than Hood. The people of Leicestershire will tell you that there was Robin going on when their talented players such as Broad, Taylor and Gurney all departed.

Not that Notts are the only ones. The County Championship will be between Yorkshire and Nottingham by the look of it, Warwickshire (they will never be Birmingham to me) won the T20, Notts will probably win the Royal London 50 over and the correlation is that they are all the traditional Test match counties. These guys are now in a different league to the likes of Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. Salary caps have seen to that, where sides have to spend within a proportion of their income.

The Test match counties have far more money, although Lancashire seem to have spent a lot of theirs on ground and legal issues, Surrey have mismanaged theirs, whilst Middlesex are only tenants to the MCC. The likes of Essex and Kent, who have produced many England players over the years, including the current England skipper, are languishing in Division Two.

It goes to show what a fantastic job has been done by the respective chairmen of Somerset, Sussex and Co in recent years, just so that they can compete. Luckily the people of Hampshire, their cricket team now play international games at Southampton so their sports stars don't get pilfered and they are in the next bracket along with Durham and Glamorgan. Decent memberships, occasional Test grounds and whilst not Rockefeller, they aren't Martine McCutcheon either.

The state of English county cricket?

Cricket, like football and rugby to a certain extent, has become about the haves and the have nots. All three are dominated by Sky television, agents touting players about and Murdoch. Murdoch from the A team could see what was going to happen a few years ago, and whilst the likes of Taylor have flirted with the England team, the likelihood this winter is that he ain't getting on no plane, as the famous eighties show would have said, despite an outstanding 140 odd. In addition you cannot blame the likes of Taylor for maximising his earning potential in what can be a very short career.

The ECB have tried to make counties play younger players by paying them more if they play a number of under 26 year olds. How about incentivising those who produce their own talent? Surely cricket these days, is not purely about the hyenas and vultures circling over ailing wildebeests in the provinces?

If not, as they say in the port of Southampton, it may only be a matter of time before one of the eighteen county ships runs aground.