In a departure from 99.94’s usual “Final Over…” formula, I look forward, instead of back, to six hopes for the coming year.
Ball One – The World Twenty20 is a showcase event – for the men and the women
Just three months away, a world cricket tournament will be played entirely in Bangladesh for the first time. In fact, it’s two world cricket tournaments, as the women’s World Twenty20 will run concurrently with the men’s with – splendidly – semi-finals and finals played as double-headers. Let’s hope for favourable weather, wickets with a bit of pace, fair boundaries and positive play. And a ticket pricing structure that allows a cricket-mad populace the opportunity to go along and see their heroes live (even those playing for India).
Ball Two – The English International Summer 2014 needs a compelling narrative
Football’s World Cup will drown out all sport in the media, indeed all news in the media, until its conclusion in the middle of July – whether cricket fans like it or not, that is the nature of the beast. That may not be a bad thing, as the early summer tourists, Sri Lanka, do not always appear to relish the prospect of chilly springtime matches – but at least the single T20I and five ODIs come before the Tests. 2014’s international summer will be defined by the Indians, who will come swaggering into town just as events in Brazil come to a climax. Their five Test series is the showpiece of the summer and needs to be as competitive as it was the last time the sides met in India, and not the walkover endured when MS Dhoni brought his World Cup winners to England in 2011.
Ball Three – England’s matches should be played in front of full crowds
The ECB needs big revenues to support its investments in cricket – whether that be central contracts, Team England’s legions of support staff or domestic cricket, particularly counties’ recent investments that have improved the spectator experience at many grounds. But nobody, not the ECB, not the concession stands, not the car parks, make money from an empty seat – so a key objective for the season should be full grounds for all England matches. That may need some imaginative marketing – the ticket price for Leeds and Chester-le-Street will need to be very significantly discounted compared to Lord’s and The Oval. One of the reasons The Ashes 2005 was such a spectacle – and one mentioned by all the players – were the full houses, even for fifth days, when it has become the norm to charge £10 on the gate. There is a huge appetite for cricket in England, but not at £75 plus for a seat.
Ball Four – New superstars fill some pretty big shoes
The recent retirements of Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis has deprived international cricket of two of its three highest scorers. With the game sprawling across three formats and players rested and rotated, it’s becoming more and more difficult for superstars to develop and maintain their status in the international game – though T20 leagues do bring them to domestic audiences. If the likes of Virat Kohli, Quenton de Kock and David Warner are to become the next set of marquee names, they need to be playing in all their teams’ matches, because the more casual fan simply expects the big names to be there when being charged big prices. That seems unlikely – it’s already the case for bowlers. Try explaining to a kid or a mate you’re taking along for a day out why their hero or the one player they know is rotated out for this match in favour of Vinay Kumar, Johan Botha or Gavin Maxwell.
Ball Five – England’s domestic cricket gets a bit of luck
More than any of us cares to admit, domestic English cricket depends on the weather. The County Championship, never an easy tournament to follow, will run through most of the summer and cricket aficionados will look out for scores in the specialist media to keep up with its twists and turns. It’s the Friday and Sunday cricket Limited Overs cricket, with its newly named competitions and teams and its family appeal, that needs the weather to drive both the gate receipts and the atmosphere inside grounds. Will spectators warm to the Royal London Cup’s 50 overs format welcoming the investment of a whole day at the cricket? Will Friday night cricket be too boozy for everyone not actually boozed up themselves? Will the season be even half as good as the ECB’s explanatory video? Time, and meteorologists, will tell.
Ball Six – Cricket’s media should slow down
For the first time since I graduated from The Beano to the Daily Mirror in about 1971, I will read nothing about cricket in the print media of 2014. Of course, we’re all online these days, so that doesn’t matter does it? Except that it does actually. Writing online has no first edition or late edition deadlines and, as is so often the case when such structures disappear, the worst case scenario appears to be the default. Within hours, sometimes minutes of a match’s conclusion, reports are posted with comments not far behind. Gone is the time for consideration and, with it, perspective as Twitter fans the flames of outrage about this or that. Old style think pieces are still written by both journalists and bloggers, but they’re increasingly drowned out by the next gobbet of breaking news screaming for attention. We live in a golden age of facts and outrage and an iron age of reflection and wit.
You can tweet me at @garynaylor999