Wisden comes out fighting and backs free-to-air cricket coverage in UK

Long considered the touchstone of the game, the 2017 edition of Wisden’s notes also defends the decision by Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales not to tour Bangladesh on security grounds.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Wisden comes out fighting and backs free-to-air cricket coverage in UK” was written by Ali Martin, for The Guardian on Wednesday 5th April 2017 14.31 UTC

Wisden has come out swinging with its 154th edition, condemning England for their Test defeat in India, calling for free-to-air coverage of cricket in the UK and criticising the England and Wales Cricket Board for bringing the County Championship “into disrepute” over its handling of Durham’s enforced relegation.

Long considered the touchstone of the game, the 2017 edition of Wisden’s notes also defends the decision by Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales not to tour Bangladesh on security grounds owing to the “deeply personal” nature of safety and praises the timing of Alastair Cook’s resignation as the England Test captain following a year of stagnation in the longest format.

The end to Cook’s reign followed a 4-0 humbling in India – and a year in which their only series win came in an early summer encounter against a callow Sri Lanka in foreign conditions – that left England sitting fifth in the world rankings, the position they had reached after victory in South Africa in January.

“For one of the best-resourced sides in the world, it felt like money poorly spent,” writes Lawrence Booth, the Wisden editor. “A trip to India is a tough gig, especially when Virat Kohli has a glint in his eye and a score to settle. But 759 for seven? [India’s record first innings in Chennai] Not even president Trump’s most outrageous alternative fact could salvage that. Above all, England failed to build on the gains of 2015, when their fearlessness made them the most watchable team in the world.”

On Cook, Booth says: “He chose the right time to go. By his own admission England’s Test cricket had stagnated. This was partly a result of being lumbered with seven matches in less than nine weeks in Bangladesh and India, a touring schedule that must never be repeated. But the two meltdowns during his reign – Australia 2013-14 and India 2016-17 – reflected an abiding weakness.

“Lacking the tactical acumen to influence a game on its own, Cook was half the leader when he wasn’t scoring runs. That his team lost only four of his 17 Test series in charge was testament to a very English grit: understated, occasionally self-conscious, always bloody-minded. It proved an exhausting combination.”

The England captain under arguably greater scrutiny during the winter was Morgan after he and the opener Hales took the board-approved option to the miss the will-they-won’t-they tour of Bangladesh that went ahead with military-style security following the 1 July terrorist attack in Dhaka that resulted in 29 deaths.

Morgan’s future authority was questioned by two prominent predecessors, Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain, and in certain sections of the media – his policy not to sing the national anthem curiously among the criticisms – but Wisden records the decision sympathetically.

Booth writes: “Isn’t the idea of safety deeply personal? Everyone has their own threshold; some may regard the assurances of security experts as too theoretical for comfort. Morgan said he couldn’t be sure he would have been able to concentrate on the cricket, which ought to have silenced those who wondered about his commitment (and since when has not singing the national anthem been proof of anything?). Morgan’s world-class hundred in Cuttack in January, in his second game back in charge, suggested his focus was better than ever.”

Wisden’s publication on Thursday, following the Lord’s dinner when the annual’s various awards will be presented, comes shortly after the ECB announced its plans for a regional Twenty20 tournament, the hope for which is that at least eight matches will be sold to a terrestrial broadcaster after 11 years of exclusive coverage by the subscription broadcaster Sky Sports.

Booth writes: “Advocates of satellite paywalls insist the world has changed: youngsters, they say, barely watch television any more; the digital dissemination of cricket, they argue, is about creating noise in bite-sized chunks on social media. Since recent research by the ECB suggested more British children aged seven to 15 recognised American wrestler John Cena than Alastair Cook, they could do with cranking up the volume.

“The debate over free-to-air cricket has disappeared so far up its own fundament that a basic truth has been lost: the sport needs viewers as much as it needs cash and coaches. Why else are the ECB pushing for terrestrial coverage in 2020? It’s a nice idea. Here’s hoping it’s not too late.”

On the issue of Durham, who after accepting a £3.8m bailout from the ECB last October begin life in Division Two this summer on minus 48 points, to go with deductions in the two limited overs competitions, a loss of Test status and with various financial restrictions imposed, Booth calls into question the timing of events last summer in particular.

He writes: “Serious questions demanded answers. When, for instance, had Durham’s relegation been decided? A leak from a meeting suggested the board knew in May, though they deny this. But the possibility of relegation – and all involved must have known it was a possibility – was not conveyed to Durham’s players. They deserved to know.

“It would have been better to come clean about Durham’s fate at the time. Instead, with games taking place which some officials appeared to know would be meaningless, the County Championship was brought into disrepute.”

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