Monday, 31 January 2011

Change For Change’s Sake

As tiresome and as boring as it was, the dance between the SPL and its member clubs in trying to formulate some sort of change to the set up of the SPL did see some questions unanswered.  Like why?

To put it bluntly, Scottish football is terrible, fans are voting with their wallets and staying away from “the national game”.  One of the normal scapegoats for the lack of talent is the size of our top division, which has fluctuated between 10 and 12 since it was cut from 18 in 1975.  While there are other factors at play for the diminishing amount of technically good young Scottish players coming through, the current system does not encourage the “hothousing” of young players.  The current system, where teams play each other up to four times a year, only encourages stagnation.
For the same reasons of boredom, the fans have already expressed a dissatisfaction with the current set up, with Supporters Direct publishing results from a poll which show that 88% of fans polled are against plans for a 10 team league.   Many fans, including myself, are in favour of a 16 team league.  Teams would play each other twice, and we would also be able to re-introduce the winter break – which was such a success, it was scrapped in 2000.  So why are we not heading towards a larger to league?

The resistance towards these proposals have come from those running the SPL.  Neil Doncaster, the SPL Chef Executive (pictured above with the SPL Trophy) has stated that each club would lose £1million in revenue if the league was set at 16 teams.  What went unspoken was that BSkyB are effectively paying for the rights to broadcast 4 Old Firm matches a season, which like it or not is the only Scottish fixture that pulls in a substantial audience. As a result, their position as the paymaster of Scottish football would possibly become vacant.

Interestingly enough, and with a possible eye on the future, the SPL have commissioned IMG Media to look into the feasibility of launching their own television channel.  We have of course been here before, the SPL’s first chairman Roger Mitchell proposed SPL TV as far back as 2002,before the idea was firstly defeated and then Mitchell was ousted from his job by an Old Firm addicted to the Murdoch shilling.  When the idea first surfaced 9 years ago, I thought that it was a good idea.  Not so much with domestic broadcasters (where rights could be sold on to BSkyB, ESPN or even BT Vision via the proposed company), but more so with overseas markets.  In particular with the Scottish diaspora that reside in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America.

The problem with the current talk of reconstruction is that it seems to be about change for changes sake, as opposed to a motive based change.  The supporters want change to drive up the standard of Scottish football.  The SPL is looking for change to look as if it is making changes, while preserving the revenues from their broadcasting deals.  The truth is, the ghost of Setanta still stalks the SPL and their powerbrokers, and has spooked the SPL away from change for the better.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

End of the Australian Age of Dominance

If the series losses to India and South Africa in the autumn of 2008 were warning signs, then they are warnings that were not heeded by Australian cricket.  The hammering by England in the Ashes series is a great big huge wake up call for Australia.

When England arrived in Australia for the series, many commentators were cautious about the chances of England pulling off a win, bearing in mind that England had only won 4 test series in Australia since the war (1954/5, 1970/1, 1978/9 & 1986/7).  We needn't have worried as England batted fantastically and bowled superbly – even managing to swing and reverse swing the ball after the 20 over period when the new ball loses it’s shine & hardness. Key to England’s success was their ability to put high scores on the board.  With the exception of their first innings 260 at the Gabba and the woeful performance at the WACA, England racked up huge first innings leads.  Leading the way was Alistair Cook, who emulated Chris Broad and Michael Vaughan by scoring three centuries in an Ashes series in Australia.  His 235* helped to draw the Gabba test while centuries in Adelaide (148) and Sydney (189) set up innings wins.  His aggregate of 766 (at an average of 127.66) is a post war record for an England batsman.

Not that the England batting display was a one man band.  Jonathan Trott accumulated 445 runs during this series, he was the other man during the marathon 329 second wicket stand which broke the Australians at the Gabba – chipping in with 135*.  His 168* in Melbourne cemented England’s position in the game after a mini wobble early on the second day.  The Captain Strauss, Prior and Bell also scored centuries, while Kevin Pieterson scored a double ton in the win at Adelaide.

Cook (235*) & Trott (135*) leave the Gabba
There to profit from the platform afforded to them by the batsmen were the bowlers.  James Anderson  lead the bowlers charts with 24 wickets @ 26.04.  His 4/51 was as key on the first day at Adelaide as his 4/44 on the first day at Melbourne.  Despite only playing 3 tests, Chris Tremlett impressed by bagging 17 wickets @ 23.35 – the best average of the series.  Despite not having the best series, Graeme Swann still took 15 wickets – level pegging with Australia’s best bowler Mitchell Johnson.  Swann’s haul includes the 5/91 that won the Adelaide test before the weather closed in.

However good England were during this series, this Ashes continues the precedent set from the 1970/1 series – that every England victory has come at a time of transition/turmoil in Australian cricket.  The 1970/1 series saw the beginnings of the Chappell/Marsh/Lillee era in Australian cricket (Ian Chappell was appointed captain during this series, while his brother Greg made his debut, alongside Lillee and Marsh ).  The 1978/9 series was played out against the acrimony of the Packer “World Series Cricket” split – a split that resolved itself when Packer’s Channel 9 won the rights to broadcast test cricket in Australia.

Perhaps more pertinent to this series is the circumstances of the 1986/7 win, which came in the middle of Australia’s worst drought in form.  From the series against Pakistan in 1983/4 to New Zealand in 1987/8, Australia failed to win a test series.  They lost two Ashes series and were comprehensively hammered by the West Indies – their captain Kim Hughes famously wept when he relinquished the captaincy after the Brisbane test against the Windies in 1984.  That win against Pakistan saw the retirements of Lillee, Marsh and Greg Chappell from test cricket.  The Sydney Ashes Test of four years ago also saw retirements of players that Australia have to date struggled to replace – Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer.

England’s next ambition should be to reach the number one spot in Test Cricket.  Already they have overhauled Sri Lanka to finish the Ashes in 3rd place.  They have the chance to consolidate 3rd place with a home series against Sri Lanka, before taking on the current top dog’s India in a home test series.  However history dictates that Australia come back stronger than ever after a home Ashes defeat.  The 1970/1 defeat saw the seeds of the 1970’s Australia side that dominated test Cricket, with the high-points being the 4-1 win in the 1974/5 Ashes and the 5-1 defeat of the embryonic West Indies side that would dominate Cricket in the 1980’s.   The 1978/9 defeat brought to an end the Packer split, while the 1986/7 defeat  began the process which saw Australia become the best cricket side once again by 1995.  England will hope that this time their side will be able to buck the trend for some time to come.