Cricket at the Crossroads

The Recusant Cricket Club would be remiss in its duty if it did not take heed of cricketing developments in India. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has set up the Indian Premier League – a franchise league playing Twenty20 cricket. The full story is at BBC On-Line here.

Everyone will have their own opinion about Twenty20 cricket. Personally, I abhor it and make no effort to listen to any matches that turn up on the radio. Not that they do very often, except in one minute reports during football programmes. So, I ignore the reports instead. 

Cricket for me is about the four or five day game; county and Test level. The (international) one-day game is to be tolerated, but no more. It takes away the technique and makes the game a glorified slug-fest.

Thus, the idea of the county game being diminished by a franchise Twenty20 tournament is abhorrent to me. To make matters worse, it looks like the franchises would follow the awful practice of giving their teams names that have no relation to the area. In my own beloved rugby union, we have the Sale Sharks. I have heard that the north west is a hard area, but never of sharks prowling the area.  

So, goodbye Gloucestershire, hello Gloucestershire Grim Reapers. Maybe they will play with scythes and not bats. Goodbye Middlesex, hello Middlesex Marauders. Presuming, of course, that the county association is not ditched altogether.

If the IPL is taken up in England, it will be the next biggest sell-out after the sale of all cricketing TV rights to Sky TV. For the sake of all that is good and holy and five days long, I urge readers to reject the IPL and all its off shoots.

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Bob Woolmer

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The death of Bob Woolmer, coach of the Pakistan Cricket team, brings into sharp focus the stresses and strains that coaches can find themselves under. I have heard is said that he was in poor health before the World Cup started, suffering from diabetes and needing oxygen, so the shock defeat to Ireland on Saturday may not be directly responsible for his apparent heart attack, however, it need hardly be said that it could hardly have helped matters.

Who would be a coach (or manager)? Once upon a time, political leaders resigned for the shortcomings of their departments, now only coaches do. If they are given the chance, that is, for it is more often the case that they are simply sacked. If a Government minister is sacked, he still has his job as M. P. to fall back on. A coach has nothing. I do not know what the average wage for a coach or manager is, I expect it is quite good; I certainly hope so, because once they are shown the door there can be no certainty of where the next job will come from.

That coaches can be sacked for other people’s failings seems terribly unfair. Perhaps they were no good at their job; on the other hand, what if the fault lies with the players? Unfortunately for the coach, however, sacking the players would be unimaginable. Whether it is fair or not, the buck stops with them.

All that can be done is that even when they are down the players continue to fight for their coach’s honour. By-the-by, this is what makes the escapades of England’s players over the weekend so disappointing. Messing around after a defeat and less than two days before the next match indicates not only a stupid short sightedness but great lack of respect for their leaders.

As for Woolmer, I am heartened to read of the tributes that have been paid to him. Pakistan’s unexpected exit from the World Cup meant that he would probably have been sacked before too long by the Pakistani cricket board. Be that as it may, I hope that his death means that they remember him well in the future. I am sure that it will.

Bob Woolmer – Requiescat in pace.

Naming Clubs and Shirts

In September 2006 NEC Harlequins played their first game in National Division One having been relegated from the Premiership the previous April. Amongst the unfamiliar teams that they would be playing in the 2006-07 were Pertemps Bees. For several weeks I wondered to myself where exactly Pertemps was. The word sounded vaguely Welsh, was it there? No, it turned out to be in Birmingham. A district? No, it turned out to be not a place at all but the sponsor’s name.

As the season progressed, NEC Harlequins and Pertemps Bees turned out to have little in common except the fact that their sponsors’ names also formed part of their club names. Quins kept winning and the Bees (for the most part) kept losing so that, last April, Harlequins were promoted and became unique: the only team in the Premiership to have the sponsor’s name alongside the club name. But this is about to change for it has been reported by Brand Republic, the advertising website, that Harlequins intend to ‘reclaim’ the Harlequin brand by ending their ‘club name’ association with NEC.

Like other Harlequin fans, as grateful as I am for the money that NEC has put into the club over the last decade (long before I ever started supporting the club) I am very pleased to see the end of the club name deal. I know that you can’t separate money and sport now, but it seems to me that some things should be kept clear of commercial interests. The club name should be one of those things. The club’s name is the heart of the club. It identifies the team, the men that run out on the pitch to win glory. It does not and should not identify the sponsors. They have put up the money but they are not out on the pitch putting their bodies on the line (as the saying is) for the cause.

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Ideally, I should prefer shirt sponsorship to be outlawed as the shirt is an extension of the badge for which the players are fighting. However, I realise that when it comes to club rugby, this is a non starter. But only for club rugby. In regards national teams, is it really necessary for them to have shirt sponsors? England and Ireland, for example, are both sponsored by 02. Now, neither the English or Irish Union is short of a few euros or pounds. Is the few extra that 02 pay them really worth the association of our countries with a mobile phone firm? I don’t think so. For that reason, I congratulate France which does not carry a shirt sponsor. When you see the French shirt, you see in your mind’s eye all that you know about France. Hopefully it will be good – the architecture, the wine, history etc. There is no sponsor to interupt your conscious or unonscious thoughts. But when you see the other five nations, you have to get past mobile phones, beers, whiskeys and a bank before you can imagine the countries that these players are bravely representing. However, it may fairly be said that people pay no mind to sponsor’s logos. While good, this is also sad because it shows how seeped in sponsorship we are. Oh, to be free of sponsorship! But now I am turning into a nostalgist (if that is a real word) – desiring a world which perhaps was never better than that which, for all its faults, we have now. Ironically, it seems, there is nothing as hard to bear as success.

Captain’s Log: The Beautiful Game in the Eternal City

It is with some measure of pride that I can safely say that the first ‘official’ RCC tour was a stirring success. All the photos of the tour will soon be posted on the Tours page. Until then I gladly submit my report.

Upon arrival, the Hon. Treasurer and myself  had a quick nets session in the hotel and then proceeded to St. Peter’s to take advantage of the remaining light.

While the Hon. T. bowled his medium pace, I was forced on to the backfoot on more than one occasion. I did however manage a few nifty cover drives which worried both the pigeons and the local constabulary.

The foppishly turned out Carabiniari minced over and made it known that this was not on and we were to cease.

Immune to our protestations that, as we were in the Vatican not Italy, his powers were null; he shewed us on with some heroic wrist-flapping.

Inside the Basilica we were shriven of our sins, supped at the Lord’s banquet and were indulged in a plenary fashion.

Filled with the graces of Holy Mother Church and a fine supper, found ourselves on the steps of the Pantheon at about eleven in the evening.

This former pagan satanarium, now a rather barren and oddly shaped Church, suffered much from the ravages of Napoleon. Its large porch is supported by, if I am not mistaken, Corinthian pillars.

The central two of these so happen to be the correct distance apart as to frame a wicket. 

A few tentative balls were sent down, and when the Hon. Treasurer snicked an horrid thick edge behind, I could do nothing to contain a shriek of “Howzat???”.

The effects were remarkable. While the odd Roman nose pointed our way in curiosity, the narrow lanes leading into the square were soon echoing with the patter of rushing feet.

Within moments we were in the midst of a growing crowd of Bangladeshi street vendors, Sri Lankan waiters and antipodean tourists. A cardboard box was found to serve as stumps and in the end, I exaggerate not, we had a full XXII for a match.

As I took up position in the covers I saw, to my delight, that in addition to batters, a keeper and bowlers aplenty, we had; three slips, covers, deep mid-wicket, a gully, a sweeper, longs on and off and a backward point.

The statly Church Warden and an Australian lady served as umpires, a loudhailer was produced and play commenced. 

As stumps flew and balls were hoiked over the fountain and into the dining crowds, the Italians looked on in wonder.

They clapped and cheered, asked questions, and even the disturbed diners were much amused.

After fully an hour’s play the police turned up again. More finger wagging ensued and we were ordered to disperse.

I was left with the thoroughly unpleasant impression that, rather than the cricket, they were really upset by the sight of the Bangladeshis enjoying themselves.

Our later calls at the Venerable English College told us that little of Father Tim’s team remained other than a wicket in the mountain villa owned by the College. We did however get a fruitful history lesson. The College motto (Ignem Veni Mettere In Terram) was predated by an earlier motto no longer used; Pro Petrus et Patria.

This is going to be put to the membership as a possible club motto.

While the club returns undefeated, I think it would be fair to say that the only real winner was cricket.

La Dolce Vita

The RCC has returned exhausted, undefeated and slightly fatter from its tour of The Eternal City.

I am delighted to report that the mission to interest our soccer-loving brethren in the real ‘beautiful game’ was a remarkable success, hampered only by occasional interventions from the Carabinieri who, for some extraordinary reason, do not consider the Piazza della Rotondo to be a suitable place for trying to coax reverse swing out of a tennis ball. I myself am not at all ashamed to admit that at that august venue I fell after making only two runs, to a sensational catch from a Bangladeshi costermonger (he had a fine bowling action too) who later attempted to sell me a spangly plastic bracelet by the Trevi Fountain. 

Regrettably, in my capacity as Hon. Treasurer of the club (by the way, does anybody know if ‘hon.’ is short for honorary or honourable?) I am afraid that my report to the finance committee promises to be rather less rosy. In this regard, my particular censure is reserved for that atrocious breed, the Roman taximeter cab driver.

Full reports from myself, the Skipper and ‘Churchwarden’ of our various cultural, spritual and sporting hai-jinx will follow, in a relaxed, Italian sort of style, over the next few days. I attach the following merely as an appetite-whetter.