Wisden Almanack 2009 delivers strong criticism on state of English cricket

• Subsidies come under scrutiny
• International schedule 'too crowded'

Parts of the 2009 Wisden Almanack published tomorrow will make uncomfortable reading for many who run cricket in this country. In his Editor's Notes, Scyld Berry picks up many of the faults evident in the English game over the past year and traces them back to back to one root: "The ECB's erroneous system of priorities."

Berry's chief complaint is the extent to which the ECB subsidises the county game through the revenue generated by the England team, and how the counties then spend that money paying the salaries of foreign players. This, Berry convincingly argues, is responsible for the absence of cricket from free-to-view television, something he says will "accelerate the game's evolution into a minority sport for the white and Asian middle class".

The dependence on the profits generated by the England team is also to blame for the overcrowding of the international schedule, so that "the captaincy becomes an unsustainable burden and at least one player has a nervous breakdown". That overcrowding in turn leads the England side to "play all the time and never peak or consistently win".

It is strong stuff, though Berry balances it with praise of the ECB managing director, Hugh Morris, for his handling of the team in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks. But even that is accompanied by the barb that "the best cricket administrator is likely to have played the game himself". He also condemns the selection of Darren Pattinson, quoting the words of one of his predecessors as editor, as having "touched the confines of lunacy".

Berry strikes a similar balance in his thoughts on the evolution of Twenty20, and in particular the Indian Premier League. The competition itself is heralded as the "single biggest change in cricket" since the invention of Test matches in the 19th century, and welcomed as "radiating hope" for a game that has "regenerated and grown over the centuries as no other sport has done". At the same time, Berry warns against cricket falling into the maw of Mammon. "Balance should be the objective... the best not the biggest, the most watchable not the most lucrative, the optimum amount of cricket not the maximum." They are wise words, you just hope that they will be heeded.

The Almanack is as reassuringly labyrinthine as ever, chronicling everything from the state of Taiwanese cricket ("ambling along like the Formosan black bear, the country's largest mammal" apparently) through Glamorgan's propensity for exaggerating crowd attendances and on to a fine obituary of Harold Pinter. It is a pleasure to get lost in its pages. Unless, that is, you happen to be involved in the running of English cricket.


Andy Bull

The GuardianTramp

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