How cricket administrators see cricketers and why they’re wrong

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We generally try and avoid reading or hearing comments from those entrusted with organising the world of cricket. It’s not a nice world.

This is not going to be a long or particularly coherent article. We just want to pick out a couple of quotes we’ve seen this week – quotes that we did not like.

The first is from Kolkata Knight Riders chief executive Venky Mysore.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Mysore said of his organisation’s plans: “What we want to create is a common platform and a system and a culture that allows us to participate around the year — enhancing our brand, building our fan base, and providing opportunities to cricketers around the world. And in the process, you build a successful business around it.”

What we do not like about this quote is the focus: striving for “a common platform” and seeking brand enhancement as priorities. We suppose if you ask a CEO his plans, you’ll get a business-focused answer rather than a cricket-focused answer, but we still struggle to read this kind of stuff without feeling like the average replicant would have a greater sense of what life is about.

The players do get a mention at least, which does imply some awareness of what the “product” actually is – but it feels very much secondary.

The second quote is from interim England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Clare Connor.

Speaking to the BBC about Ben Stokes’ retirement from 50-over cricket, she said: “The players are at the heart of what we need to do to take the game forward. Without them, we don’t have a game that has got the wow factor to inspire.”

It feels a bit like Connor has spent too long wallowing in the mire of cricket admin here and has gradually become infused with some of its odorous qualities.

She is clearly trying to say the right thing, but has nevertheless betrayed a certain complacency when doing so. Because it’s not that you lack the wow factor without players, is it? What you lack is the game itself.

Without players, there is nothing. Without players all you have is a load of people sat in a stadium consuming overpriced snack food and others sat at home watching endless adverts for upcoming fixtures between teams with no players.

We’re being a bit harsh on Connor because we suppose she was specifically talking about the big name players. All the same, “the players are at the heart of what we need to do to take the game forward” seems similarly detached from that fundamental truth. The players are more than the heart. The players are the thing. They’re the whole thing.

The players aren’t a key component of a larger entity. They’re not an important part of a wider “platform”. The players are the heart, lungs, liver, brain, kidneys, bowel, small intestine and everything else. All the other stuff – the TV coverage, the ad revenue, the in-ground catering, the websites and social media coverage – are just add-ons.

All the things cricket administrators prioritise are the optional bits.

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  1. Game: a fun thing to watch and/or play.
    Sport: a business run by billionaires to allow the creation of multi-millionaires and millionairesessses.

  2. Yup, your being more than a bit unfair, KC.

    If we want the game to be professional (remember what the old-style almost feudal gentleman & players world was like when cricket was amateur and/or shamateur) it acquires, existentially, an element of business culture as well as an element of old style sports culture at the elite (or read professional) levels.

    The professional players’ are an essential component of that business but it would be a mistake to treat them as the sole concern, making all other elements of the game secondary. Sports that overdo player power (e.g. top-level football) end up with salaries through the roof for the very top players, only the dregs for much of the professional game and (to my eyes) a none-too ethical culture.

    Looking after the wellbeing of those who work within the professional game (mostly players) should be a key concern of an ethical professional sport, but each individual player within that culture should have an element of autonomous, self-determined action that contributes towards their own well-being.

    In other words, it is the job of administrators to create a fair and suitable environment in which the top players can thrive, but that is not the be-all-and-end-all of the cricket administrators’ role.

    The Mysore quote grates on me because he seems to see the brand and business as the central tenet and the players as secondary “guns for hire” which you slot in to that framework. That is an understandable perspective for a franchisee in a business such as the IPL. In a way it is the IPL business model with which you are objecting. Understandably so in my view.

    The Connor quote seems fine to me. Not the exact words I’d have chosen but she is worrying about the right things – how to find a suitable balance between the various (and sometimes conflicting) priorities of an organisation like the ECB, which is part business, part steward of our wonderful game. Tough job.

  3. I read a Cricinfo piece on the new FTP recently, and then immediately after read the notice from Lancashire about how they are holding a session to discuss changes to the domestic schedule (ostensibly to facilitate more rest for players and help England be the best at ‘all three formats’) but making it clear that the Hundred is not up for debate.

    Then there was apparently some unpleasantness.

    That made me a little sad about the ability of the national and international administrators to actually do anything about resolving the tension between financial incentives, the wellbeing of players, and the interests of existing ‘stakeholders’ (aka ‘cricket fans’, aka ‘people who buy tickets’).

  4. The IPL is now sufficiently well-established as a crickertainment business model that they can safely relegate players to second or third place in the priority list and still thrive. T20 doesn’t really need the big shots – you only need them to provide *sustained* entertainment over hours and days. Average players can contribute to an exciting T20, so Mysore’s sentiment, though offensive, is understandable. Like Ged, I feel it’s a little unfair to find fault with the Connor quote.

    1. It is unfair. We’re probably commenting more on our own response to it as a result of the typical way is spoken about by those in charge. It’s almost like this is the least bad thing an administrator can say and do it shows us the parameters of that world.

  5. What I dislike about the Clare Connor quote is that she has nothing much of interest to say and then dresses it up in sporting corporatese

  6. What I dislike about the Connor quote is that it’s the complete opposite of what is actually happening. If the ecb et al actually we’re looking after the players then the schedule wouldn’t have pushed Stokes into his retirement. Sports admin gaslighting at its finest.

    1. Yes, there’s a hollowness to it. “Oh we’ve taken note” just feels so empty when it’s been such an obvious thing for so long and there still isn’t anything concrete to say about how the problem will be addressed.

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