“Winter well”. Words that county fans say slightly mournfully to each other as the season closes and summer friendships are put on ice for the long off season. But, for the counties themselves, life goes on and here we round up news, views, developments and other stuff, mainly off the field, from half the counties to see what has been going on. In amongst it all, if you can bear to plough through it - it’s shows the remarkable the amount of good work counties do off the field.
Under new(ish) Chairman Chris Grant, continue to impress off – and increasingly on – the field.
Winners of the Best Domestic Marketing Campaign for their Twenty 20 efforts at the ECB Business of Cricket awards, they also received a special commendation for their 2011 Community programme, which included a “Summer Smile” day, in conjunction with the Derbyshire Telegraph, where 150 people who’d suffered misfortune in 2011 were invited to – and feted at – a 40 over match.
Their new membership packages – compiled after consultation with members (other counties take note) have won wide acclaim; “Great membership offers, hope other counties follow suit”. They have frozen all prices for 2012, reintroduced a Senior Category (20% discount), introduced a £99 one day category and made Country Membership more accessible by reducing the qualification to 20 miles from 35, bringing Matlock, Chesterfield, Leek and Uttoxeter into the category. With impressive attention to detail, if you do live over 35 miles away, you now also get free parking while all members can now pay their fees in five installments (again, other counties, hark please).
Regarding matters on the field, they continue to focus on stability with many established professionals now contracted till 2014 which, together with the many academy graduates signed up, means, according to the Chairman, they have offered more new contracts than any other county in 2011. The one disappointment has been the abandonment of the pursuit of a marquee player to work with new captain, Wayne Masden, a la Eddie Barlow/Dean Jones of yesteryear.
Although approaches were made to Paul Collingwood and Ricky Ponting and they have had agents scouring the world, the economics of the modern game – where a player can get 10 times as much for an IPL stint as for a full county season – made this task very difficult. Nevertheless Chief Executive Keith Loring says they have funds available to make some big name signings.
Ali Evans, a 22 year old Scottish international, who took 31 wickets in 6 games for Derby seconds last year, is to have a three month pre season trial while Darren Lehmann, after working with Ross Whiteley at his academy (Darren’s not Ross’) feels Ross could become an England all-rounder.
Finally former Chairman, Don Arnott, has received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Derby in recognition of his own achievements and contributions to local sport, while settlement has been reached with ex first team coach Andy Brown, who was dismissed mid match with John Morris last May.
Oh and their website remains one of the best in cricket; not the prettiest but really informative. with blogs, player interviews, player highlights packages and interviews on You Tube.
Membership renewals are going well with 2,000 in the first two weeks after the launch of the new packages (twice the equivalent 2011 figure). Ben Stokes has been named Cumbrian Sports Personality of the year, while Head Groundsman, David Measor, was runner up in the Groundsman of the Year Four Day category. The Emirates hosted the North East part of an attempt at a Guinness Wine Tasting World Record and the Durham Academy Assistant coach has been appointed Lead Specialist Coach to women and girls cricket. Congratulations to the aptly-named Ali Maiden.
In other news the Emirates will hold a Wedding Fayre, with 70 exhibitors, in January, the club have launched a free monthly community health programme for the over 50s (“50 not out”) and the annual supporters survey has been taken
On the field the very unfortunate Mark Davies, who it was rumoured might have to give up, is recovering from his ankle operation and, after six weeks in the gym, is now bowling in the indoor school while the club plan to get Steve Harmison some bowling before the season which may involve him going abroad for a few weeks (Uh, oh). It looks as if Ben Stokes will be ready for April while Liam Plunkett’s progress is being monitored very closely as he works in the indoor school to get back to the very basics in his action.
Meanwhile Ben Harmison, released after just four list A games in 2011, signed for Kent commenting that he was “was surprised that Durham decided to let me go at the end of the summer having done well there over the past three or four years. I don’t think I’ve let anyone down there and I’d say I have been one of the better players. I was part of the Championship winning side and I thought I’d get another deal there, but it wasn’t to be. I’m not sure if it is to do with finances at the club and other players signing big deals, but you have got to pick yourself up and move on.”
The off season has been dominated by the decision to abandon the Southend Cricket Festival, after 105 years, and play all games at Chelmsford – apart from a week at Colchester – as this would “better serve the interests of the club”. Supporters’ reactions have ranged from “terrible, terrible decision’”to “at the moment I feel betrayed and Essex won’t be taking any gate money off me next season” to those, even in Southend, who simply don’t like Garons Park.
Keeping Colchester who made a small loss 2008-2011, a period where Southend make a £60,000 profit, seems odd from the outside and a pressure group has now been set up to try to get the decision reversed. They have also signed two new sponsorship deals with local firms, The Woodland Group and The Chelmsford Medical Centre and launched “Beyond the Boundary”, a networking club.
Meanwhile Essex Chairman Nigel Hilliard’s contribution to the Morgan review was to demand a return to a system whereby all counties start with a chance to win the Championship (however achieved – he didn’t necessarily mean one divisional cricket) because he believes it is four day cricket that has improved standards not two divisional cricket– in fact he feels that crediting the first division is “rubbish” because so many players in the England set up come from the second division. No comment except that four day cricket was introduced in 1993 (two divisions 2001) so if, it is the savior, it certainly ambled along pretty casually while doing it.
On the field Graham Napier has been awarded a benefit next year while 36 year old Charl Willoughby has arrived, in face of competition from at least 4 other counties, to help David Masters, who has extended his contract to 2014 and is spending the winter away from cricket working for his father’s building business. Less happily the trial of their former player, Mervyn Westfield, for conspiracy to defraud begins on January 12 while another former player, Danish Kaneiria, has had his appeal against the Pakistan Cricket Board’s refusal to select him rejected.
The remarkable new membership scheme – £99 pounds for the season (80% off gate prices) plus £60 pounds off international tickets and a £30 voucher if you refer a new member – attracted 500 members in its first week and around 1,500 after three weeks and, not surprisingly, the deadline was extended.
Cardiff MCCU, a consortium of three local Universities, has been granted first class status for its early matches in 2012, all T20 games have been allocated to the Swalec (poor Swansea). Former captain, Tony Lewis, the last man to captain England on debut has been made a life Vice-President of the MCC, the highest honour an MCC member can get.
But possibly the most important news is the work being done at the Swalec over the winter – the grandest ever winter overhaul of the square - to get some pace in the pitch with a view to Ashes 2015, with two tracks overhauled this winter as part of a rolling programme that will see eight worked on over the next four years. Keith Exton, Head Groundsman, say every umpiring report rates it a good pitch but lacking in pace and this is being addressed.
Meanwhile 2012 target Alviro Petersen has been given a deadline of the end of January to decide whether he will retire from international cricket when his South Africa contract ends and return to Glamorgan or not. Given his 109 v Sri Lanka on his recent recall, it’s surely a huge call for him to Kolpak. (And, as the day this newsletter goes live, so it proved. Darned deadlines).
The club are hopeful that James Harris who missed the Lions tour through injury will be fit for the start of the season while, at the other end of his career Simon Jones says he still hopes for an international recall.
Mike Powell left for Kent with a gentle parting shot at the club saying it had changed a lot since he joined, with less home grown players and becoming money rather than cricket driven, which didn’t seem to be working. He also commented that “when you are in the middle of everything you are not allowed to air your views and that is frustrating”. The club largely took this on the chin, possibly wisely given Mike boxed Peter Rogers an ex Rugby prop as part of his benefit after being trained by Enzo Calzaghe. Meanwhile Colin Metson, MD of Glamorgan cricket, took a more sanguine view of things Glammy stating that the performances in 2011 justified the upheavals of last winter, despite the club actually losing one more game last summer than in 2010, missing the goals of promotion and a T20 quarter final place and only achieving one goal – the rather modest one of four wins in the CB 40.
Still the club are going on a preseason tour to Spain. Hola!
They remain in a curious state of limbo as a late, unexplained postponement of November’s crucial planning meeting about the £10 million development of their Nevil Road HQ left them unable to finalise playing budgets for 2010. The vital meeting has now been set for 11 January 2011. Good luck to them.
Although six youngsters have signed deals, leaving the club’s long term strategy in place, Chris Taylor’s future remains unclear – while the experienced bowler (seamer or spinner) that Alex Gidman feels is needed to replace Jon Lewis and an overseas player for the championship remain on hold, despite plenty of players expressing interest. Although Chief Executive Tom Richardson remains calm – “All we can do is wait and hope” – the situation remains pretty unsatisfactory. Nevertheless the club, once all is settled, hope to make up to three new signings, and they have a top order batsman from another county firmly in mind.
Hopefully the supporters who have been urged to email or write to the Planning Co-ordinator in support of International cricket at Bristol will have an effect. Off the field the club were delighted to announce a £2,000 profit after the cumulative £400,000 pretax losses of the previous two years. As expected, with the 2010 departures of William Porterfield, Gemail Hussian, Steve Kirby and other experienced players costs were down by £150,000; but, perhaps more encouragingly gate receipts, aided by a record Cheltenham Festival, advertising and hospitality all fared well.
Meanwhile club spin coach, Richard Dawson has begun a similar, but part time, role with the under 17s and under 19s in England’s Development Programme while Jon Lewis has said he is available to provide advice to any Gloucester youngsters who want to phone him – perhaps in appreciation of the clubs decision to “retire” his number 18 shirt; only the second such retirement after Jack Russell’s.
Chairman, Jim Cumbes revealed back in February that the club expected to make a record loss for 2010 so the £2,114 million loss finally announced in November didn’t cause many ripples. Although 2011 is expected to see further heavy losses, the club will take on no more debt and, by 2013, expect to turnover £20 million and make big profits at least until 2016.
Perhaps reflecting all this, in a county first, the club has signed a three year deal with Optimum Procurement who will use their expertise to reduce costs, impose sourcing efficiency and update systems as Lancashire enter the key phase of the overall £43 million development. Optimum feel their business model could benefit every county citing an impressive client, including Manchester City (who’ve just announced a record loss for British football of £194.9 million. Oops).
In other news a Red Rose Wall has been launched whereby members can have their name and a message engraved, er, on a wall, with prices starting from £75, with all proceeds going to the LCCC Foundation, a new arm of the club which will deal with the local community; Paul Allott has formally returned to the committee eight years after losing his place because he critisised Jon Crawley during a SKY match (he was co-opted back in 2007); Lancashire under 13 girls and under 14 boys also became national champions while in early December a book was released to celebrate the first championship win in 77 years. “Champions.. it’s about bloomin’ time” is a title that certainly does what it says on the tin. The celebratory DVD released in early December had sold out by Christmas and had to be reordered while, on 29 February, they are holding a County Championship Celebration dinner.
Away from all this celebration their President Jack Livingstone has been awarded the OBE, the club have launched an initiative – a 20 week programme along with Jobcentre plus and trainers, Pertemps – to help the unemployed while Trafford has been named the third fastest growing touring destination in Europe – and the council have given the club due credit for that. Cue even more celebrations.
Not everything in the garden is (red) rosy however; the club was fined £3,500 and Glenn Chapple given a suspended two months ban for repeated dissent over the previous 12 months.
Despite this Lancashire have provided one of the most heartwarming tales of the winter – 16 year old Callum Flyn, a gifted cricketer for the county who has just been called up by England’s disability team, has just been named “Britain’s’ Kindest Kid” after a public vote during a national TV competition for his work for the Bone Cancer Research Trust – work he has done since he recovered from the same when he was 14. His story is well worth reading on the Official website.
Ben Smith returns as batting coach, hoping that the magic that saw Leicestershire win the C0unty Championship in two of the three years he made 1,000 runs for them rubs off though, after the departure of James Taylor and Martin Van Jaarsfeld’s “Hello, goodbye”, he’s a bit short of batsmen to coach. Will Jefferson was named Leicestershire Cricketer of the Year and Supporters Player of the year (he didn’t just have a super “Super” over on T20 finals day – he also got 1,000 runs in the CC), Andrew Macdonald was the players player of the year while Wayne White won the rather exotic “most improved uncapped player” title.
Off the field, a Special Meeting to pass some rule changes saw all seven passed (majority of 1,791 to 16) while you have to admire the person whose resistance to rule change one was defeated by 258 votes to his or her one while in the club Christmas raffle the 2013 Gold membership was won by one J.Birkenshaw. Hmmm.
Finally, the club were not best pleased by the Morgan Review, especially over the 4 days cricket proposals. As Chief Executive, Mike Siddall, told the Leicester Mercury “”We are happy with what we’ve got now, which is what we voted for. “But what we’re not happy about is the scheduling which means we’ve got virtually no Championship cricket in June or July.That does not help with our membership.”
Searching for a new Chief Executive after the departure of Derek Brewer to the MCC, Notts remain a club in rude health. At the ECB Business of Cricket Awards they won the award for Best Community Programme for the second year in a row, Best Media Management and Best Commercial and PR team (the latter not surprisingly after five nominations in 10 categories). They also won Rushcliffe Borough Council’s “Business of the Year” while Steve Birks was acknowledged as best One Day Groundsman. Graeme Swann also picked up the BBC East Midland Sports Personality of the Year.
On the field they won the race to sign James Taylor, are hopeful of signing Mike Hussey for the second half of 2012 while the future looks bright with the selection of Brett Hutton, Sam Kelsall and Sam Wood for England under 19s.
But, inevitably, the award of ashes tests in 2013 and 2015 dominates things Notts. The video presentations made to the ECB are to be shown to members at the AGM in February while their official magazine – Covered – has a two page celebration and explanation of the process; the magazine is available for download from the Notts website (see News 3rd December) and it’s well worth a read, despite a book extract from, you guessed it, Graeme Swann. The site also has a feature on the process (News 11 November) but, as a thwarted, Warwickshire fan I’d had enough of it all by then.
Finally, former player Eddie Hemmings and his wife Chris used the occasion of their 40th wedding anniversary to raise over £4000 for Cancer Research.
KD Smith, back as Chief Executive at Northants (where he had trials as a 15 year old), feels “there is a lot right about the club” although he wants to increase their profile and push commercial efforts at what is, at heart , a rugby town. He replaces Mike Tagg who resigned after eight years as he’d done what he came to do – probably hoping to forget the floodlights built in the wrong place during his time which meant the club had to seek retrospective planning permission, faced a court action and use generators throughout 2010 as the error caused “unexpected challenges in connecting the 48 metre high lights to the mains”.
On the field Stephen Peters and Lee Daggett – one of the nicest men in cricket – have signed contract extensions to 2013, a seamer, Sam Sweeney, who has played for Lancashire under 19s has signed for two years – while in the New Year 24 year old Lewis Bruce, an off spinner who took 48 wickets for Cambridgeshire and scored 500 runs for his Northants league, side will trial with the first team. And congratulations to Lizzie Harrison, who works with Northants under 17 girls team, for being named “Young Coach of the Year” in the annual Sky Sports Coach Awards.
Meanwhile Rob White, who still holds the record for the highest maiden 100 in first class cricket (277), possibly relying on the genes of a grandmother who was a dancer, won “Strictly Northampton” in front of a crowd of 1,000, excelling with his waltz, jive and cricket based freestyle – the event raising over £30,000 for charity. Having a partner named Supple (Ruth) can’t have hurt either.
Niall O’Brien, meanwhile, after returning from the Hong Kong Sixes went to Dubai to take part in a Bollywood movie and will return there in February with Ireland who will also visit Kenya and Zimbabwe. He may be doing 1000s of miles this winter but the shorter distance – Lands End to John O’Groats – cycled in 9 days by David Willey and Richard Cockayne for Cancer Research will surely have felt even longer.
Interesting times commercially with the launch of a club lottery which, for £2 a go allows entry in a weekly draw with a top prize of £25,000 (£100,000 at the October launch) as well as other prizes such as tickets, apparel and experiences. Club membership applications have again gone out with personalised application forms, with Andrew Hall’s help, while they continue to innovate with five brand new hospitality packages, as well fan feedback forums where things like the (excellent) club website, marketing, communications, pricing and events were discussed.
Another innovation was the Las Vegas-themed Christmas parties aimed at “bringing the Entertainment Capital of the World to Northampton” via Sinatra, Elvis, Tina Turner and Tom Jones tribute artists.