Depression? Recession? Time for austerity and pulling in the horns? Not as far as the England and Wales Cricket Board is concerned. Not, at least, when it comes to expenditure on England activities.
The announcement this week that the England women’s team, which tours South Africa later this month for a series of one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches, will receive tour fees and incentivised appearance fees for the first time, follows last week’s revelation of grandiose winter plans for the men and the appointment of five specialist coaches to work full time on women’s and girls’ cricket.
Last year a cool £24.8 million was spent by ECB on England teams at all levels of the game, including activity at the National Performance Centre at Loughborough, out of an overall spend by the board of £94.9 million.
There has to be a limit to all this expenditure and it is not quite clear who, if anyone, is the George Osborne of the ECB as they blithely push for growth on all fronts, but let it be said before further examination of what is being lavished on Team England in the next few months that this is one ECB strategy that has worked wonderfully well so far.
Utter failure to produce a coherent domestic fixture list is a black mark against the ECB in its years under David Collier’s ostensible command and the encouragement of new grounds to compete for the right to stage international cricket has not only been expensive but an incentive to create extra international fixtures which unbalance the programme and ask too much of the best players. One thing is beyond doubt, however: that the strategy to throw money at Team England has been an outstanding success.
England are currently the strongest men’s Test team, have deeper playing resources than any other country with the possible exception only of India and are fast improving in limited-overs cricket. They are currently holders of the Twenty20 World Cup and the seeds of a team capable of winning the 50-over version in 2015 have been carefully sown.
The coming matches against India away, albeit against what remains a weakened India team in the absence of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh – and probably Zaheer Khan too? – will test the water again. England are resting Anderson, who may or may not be a first choice in 2015, Morgan and Broad, who certainly will be, and Ben Stokes, who may be.
Women’s international cricket is a much smaller pool and England are probably only just the number one country following the retirement of the outstanding Claire Taylor, but ECB expenditure on the girls can be justified in ways other than results. At school age level I have my doubts about the claims that participation is increasing at grass-roots levels even amongst boys, when it may simply be that heads are counted where once they never were, but there is no question that more girls now play cricket than ever before, with all the social benefits that brings.
The board pays a monthly wage to 20 women players who are also able to supplement their income by coaching schoolchildren for The Cricket Foundation’s Chance to Shine scheme. These payments will increase from January 1. Clare Connor, the ECB Head of Women’s Cricket, is clearly an effective advocate inside the boardroom as well as an absolutely outstanding ambassador for the female game. England are preparing to defend the ICC Women’s World Cup in 2013 and are hoping to regain the World T20 Cup next year.
Only when the men stop winning will questions be seriously asked about what all this is costing. To catch the eye of Hugh Morris and David Parsons, who co-ordinate the forward planning with Andy Flower and Geoff Miller, it seemingly helps if your name begins with B or R – Bairstow, Borthwick, Briggs, Buck, Buttler, Rankin, Root and Roy are all among the 17 men who will this autumn train at different times in Loughborough, India and South Africa, according to their specialist skills, before most of them undertake a seven-week tour of Sri Lanka. There is a wider alphabetical spread amongst the ‘Potential England Performance Players’.
More to the point, there is a great deal of genuine talent in all departments and all of it has emanated from the county game, where, generally speaking, young players are getting chances earlier. This has something to do with another ECB strategy – financial incentives – but, ironically, also with the fact that all counties are thinking more carefully at last about lavishing large salaries on players from overseas, the best of whom are either too well paid anyway, or too exhausted, or both, to commit themselves to long periods with a county.