Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 16, 2018

The Price of Admission: cricket, music and access

Vikram on his way to 97 FC wickets and a gig at the ECB

On Monday 13 August, 99.94 attended an event that looked at access to cricket (particularly amongst people with South Asian heritage) and compared and contrasted it with access to classical music. Its two speakers were –

Vikram Banerjee

Vikram Banerjee is Head of Strategy for the England and Wales Cricket Board, where he is charged with helping to grow the sport and ensure cricket becomes ‘a game for all’. Having studied at Cambridge and Harvard Business School, Vikram was previously a Strategy Manager at Whitbread, a FTSE100 company with brands including Costa Coffee & Premier Inn. Prior to this, Vikram started his career as a professional cricketer for Gloucestershire County Cricket Club.

Huw Humphreys

Huw Humphreys has been Head of Music at the Barbican since September 2014. This appointment brought him back to the UK after nine years as Director of Artistic Planning of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, a position he held following six years with renowned artist management agency Askonas Holt and four years as General Manager of the European Union Youth Orchestra. Huw holds a Masters in Music from Oxford University, and spends most of his non-music related life religiously following the Welsh rugby and England cricket teams, and improving his golf swing.

Here are some of the key points of the discussion (paraphrased by me) supplemented by thoughts of my own in italics.

Both speakers admitted / claimed / lamented that the subject of their jobs were associated with traditional ideas of privilege and that something needed to be done urgently to break that impression and build audiences and participation for the future.

Cricket’s outreach programme was successful, but not in breaching the gap between inner city manifestation of the sport and the “middle class” game. Cricket was splitting into two parallel worlds, not by format, but by social and ethnic demographics.

Cricket has been seen (outside communities from the South Asian diaspora) as a game for those already privileged perhaps only in the South and Midlands. In the North, especially Lancashire and Yorkshire, cricket has been, and still is, rooted as much in working class communities as in fee-paying schools. It’s fair to say that such communities have come under huge stress since the de-industrialisation of the 1980s and later and that cricket, like so much else, has suffered as a result.

Cricket is seen as a difficult game, but, at its heart, it’s simple – give kids a bat and ball and soon they’ll be playing a rudimentary form of the game. The ECB is looking to strip out cricket’s complications when promoting access.

In music, the issue was less a matter of perceived complexity but more the panoply of infrastructure “required” for its staging – hall, acoustics, orchestras etc. Music didn’t need that – it should go to new venues, to non-traditional spaces, to where people could listen easily.

My introduction to opera was via a very hot room behind a pub in Upper Street. That took me online where there is more music than anyone could listen to in a lifetime all pretty much free to explore. I’ve since seen opera in grand halls at home and abroad and in the cinema, as well as in the base of a tunnel next to the Thames – and in hot rooms behind pubs. Opera came to me – but now I go to it. 

The ECB did lots of research in asking people what they wanted from cricket and have built a plan to allow them to access it. Vikram – a man of South Asian heritage himself and also extremely personable, excusably steeped in the management speak of MBA graduates and palpably passionate about his work – explained how maps had been constructed from the data, not just to target different ethnicities (“South Asian” is almost insultingly broad brush) but also where facilities were available, and where they were needed.

This sounds impressively thorough, but do people always know what they want? As the story goes, if Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, he’d have bred a horse that lived twice as long and ate half as much. And how’s that referendum “result” implementation plan going?   

The Women’s World Cup Final was an eye-opener, selling out Lord’s, providing an unforgettable experience for everyone involved, but the crowd wanted low margin coffee and ice cream and not high margin beer. The world looked like a very different place and CEOs took note with a wary eye.

In a similar way, women and BAME / state school students were arriving, at long last, in the top echelons of classical music and making a difference.

The ECB Board had been re-formed to get rid of many of its “pale, male and stale” cricket tragics and bring in a dynamic, diverse new team (including a woman who runs a chain of coffee shops worldwide).

Does anyone outside business schools (alumni of which populated Enron and Lehmann Brothers and countless other disastrous companies) believe the “business people know best” rhetoric any more? The ECB Board and internal structure may well have needed modernising, but this reification of “business” seems strangely outdated post 2008. My experience is that the boards that rely on KPIs, high-powered breakfast meetings and legions of special assistants and consultants, need to be reined in rather than let loose. Especially in fields beyond their expertise, in which the inevitable lack of humility that comes with success in one field encourages them to believe they can do it in another. Often they can’t – take education as a case in point.  

Both speakers agreed that music and sport were universal enterprises that had the power to transcend language, culture and religion and break down barriers.

Although well meaning local initiatives were important, cricket needed a plan, a strategy that got to the heart of what young people wanted in order to engage. Would the club stalwart, who put in the voluntary hours year-in, year-out to support the junior section, really know how to keep 20 five-year-olds’ attention on a Sunday morning? How did cricket get round its labelling by kids as being too “Downton Abbey”?

The ECB Diversity Plan is now part of its core business, with support at board level (champion Lord Patel) and the resources to back up its bold ambition. It is detailed and focused (for example on the ten cities where the vast majority of its target communities lived) and gave 11 tightly drafted priorities as metrics to measure its success. One example – the fact that South Asian kids wanted to play indoor cricket 12 months a year and that girls and women in some communities needed privacy to play – was cited to show how the ECB had listened. Financial return would not the only measure of success any longer.

In this way, the South Asian community’s longstanding rejection of the ECB’s approach to engagement, would be turned around and the benefits of sensitive listening and swift, effective implementation of change would bear fruit.

My question to VIkram related to my own story of going to see Lancashire vs Hampshire at Aigburth, Liverpool, this very week, 43 years ago. How could a working class kid (as I was) do that now when, in the last 46 days, counties have played just seven T20 matches at home and nine of them held a single Championship match, almost none of which were at outgrounds? Vikram said that research said that the public wanted the T20 tournament in a block and that outground cricket was coming back in 2020. Not with Barry Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts and Clive Lloyd playing, was my retort.

There are so many reasons to open up cricket and music to everyone who wishes to enjoy what they bring to life – and, even those who don’t like either, surely recognise the importance of sport and culture in education, community cohesion and public life. The challenge was to ensure that evolution – and maybe revolution – does not leave the existing publics behind as the brave new worlds are embraced. Nobody thinks that’s easy – but surely nobody thinks that the status quo is anything other than a recipe for decline, and possibly very swift decline indeed. 

What I heard suggested that the ECB were getting as much right as wrong – not a bad tipping of the scales in the light its record over the last 15 years, some might say. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating – and I suspect I shan’t live long enough to see the full impact of Vikram and his colleagues’ work. But, and this is no exaggeration, there are few things I want more than to shuffle off this mortal coil knowing that the second half of the 21st century will have space for Test cricket largely as it exists today and a County Championship largely as it existed in 2012. If that’s proves too much to ask, I don’t want it to be for the want of cricket’s leaders faith in the game and energy in its management. With Vikram so closely involved, I think we have the right person in post to make the right calls and deliver that energy 


The Price of Admission event is part of Real Quick, the Barbican’s new series of talks, performance, and creative experiments tackling current affairs and recent events. The Real Quick program is in turn part of our 2018 season The Art of Change, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.


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