By Derek Pringle
The resignation of Somerset’s former chairman, Andy Nash, from the ECB Board of which he was a prominent member, has shone a spotlight on the murky deal-making going on at the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Nash, much respected within cricket circles over the past 15 years, quit his role with the ECB due to the sizeable compensation payments Test match grounds would get in years they did not stage a Test match between 2020-2024.
With six traditional Test grounds in Lord’s, the Kia Oval, Trent Bridge, Edgbaston, Emirates Old Trafford and Headingley, and two more recent additions in Ageas Bowl and Swalec Cardiff, even a seven-Test summer is going to see two venues miss out, given the current convention of having two matches at Lord’s. Why not try some cricket hospitality at England’s upcoming matches?
Durham, who have already lost their Test match status, would not benefit from the scheme, the ECB having already bailed them out of financial difficulties.
Missing out on a Test for one season a county like Nottinghamshire or Warwickshire would get £500,000. But if, like Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl, you have not been awarded a Test for that entire five-year period, then you can expect a payment of £2.5 million.
As one county executive told me, “That is £1million to £1.5 million a year the ECB have to fork out to the chosen few, which is a lot of money when most counties are businesses of less than £5 million turnover.”
For those counties outside that exclusive club of seven, it looks like a debt reduction programme especially when the same clubs have been picked to stage the ECB’s new T20 franchise competition, due to start in 2020.
Yet, if that was not repugnant enough, especially to the Category C counties not deemed worthy enough to stage international cricket, it was the clandestine nature of the deal that really upset Nash. Given that he’d already made his misgivings plain to Lord Patel, the ECB’s senior independent director, and felt they had not been listened to, there was no other course of action left for him but to resign.
Lord Patel’s role is not yet clear but what seems crystal is the conflict of interest attached to Colin Graves, the ECB’s chairman. Founder of the Costcutter Supermarket chain, Graves helped to bail out Yorkshire CCC with his own money after they had mired themselves deep in debt improving Headingley.
It was a noble gesture but one that has increasingly become a burden to Graves with Yorkshire still owing £20million to family trusts set up by him. Under chief executive Tom Harrison, the ECB has stressed the importance of transparency and good corporate governance, but it is not a good look when the chairman has a stake in one of the Test match grounds being aided by a compensation scheme being sneaked through without due process.
Understandably, the non-Test match counties, see it as further entrenchment of the “Us and Them,” situation which has been at the root of most arguments within English and Welsh cricket this millennium.
Why, for instance, should a county like Essex, cautious with its finances and determined to live within its means, acquiesce to large amounts of money going to a county like Glamorgan, which is failing on many fronts?
Glamorgan has staged Tests at Cardiff, though most have not made a profit. They have been helped in that regard with loans of public funds, a debt now said to have been written off. In addition, they have been paid £1 million by the ECB not to bid for an Ashes Test with more compensation due under this new scheme.
All of this might be a tad more acceptable if they had produced a slew of international cricketers for England, but they have not. As somebody once said about British life, generally – “Nothing succeeds quite so much as failure.”
This latest bombshell will do little to allay the growing fears among Category C counties that the new franchise T20 competition they have signed up to will deliver on all it promises. So worried have some counties become, including those who willingly signed up to it (thanks mostly to the £1.3 million sweetener promised by ECB), that they are meeting secretly in small cabals wondering whether they have done the right thing.
The major point of contention is over who will own the new T20 franchise competition? Initially, ECB had proposed to take ownership, which would allow them to employ whoever they liked to market and run the tournament. The worry with that was they could spend millions on promoting a tournament in direct competition with the others played by the counties, giving it a distinct advantage over them.
In a fragile eco-system such English county cricket, that could prove disastrous, so the next proposal was that the new franchise competition should be owned by the county chairman, thus ensuring the counties’ interests were being served. But this proposal has now been extended to all 41 of ECB’s stakeholders being involved, and not just the 18 first-class counties plus MCC.
With a two thirds majority generally needed to vote in any important changes within English cricket, the smaller counties’ fears have not been mollified knowing that their power of blocking anything which threatens them has been severely weakened. This, inevitably given the secrecy surrounding the compensation payments, has led some to fear that further radical change is afoot.
One unintended consequence of the compensation scheme is that counties might prefer to take the ECB’s money over hosting a Test against somebody like Sri Lanka, decent opponents but not a big draw card.
In the past, counties like Durham, Hampshire and Glamorgan, have made losses on Sri Lanka Tests. Compared to a deficit, the ECB’s payment of 500K would be infinitely preferable to the point where nobody but Lord’s would want to hold a Test against them.
Crazy? Not now it is all about the money.