Pommies: England Cricket Through an Australian Lens by William Buckland (Troubador Publishing 2008)
The first thing to say about this very useful book is that the title is a little misleading: you expect it to be written from an Australian point of view. In fact Buckland is English, and makes only passing references to Aussie attitudes to English cricket. But throughout the book he uses the manifestly successful Australian domestic cricket structure as a standard against which to measure the English equivalent. Why Our Cricket System Is Crap and the Australian One Isn’t would be a more precise, if less elegant, title.
The second thing is that this is, essentially, a readable and thorough business-style analysis with a big chunk of recent cricket history thrown in. Every anecdote is there to prove a point; this is not a book of player reminiscences or dressing-room gossip.
Pommies should be required reading for anyone who intends to pontificate about cricket in the near future. Much of the history – the Packer revolution and subsequent developments – will be familiar to students of the game, but it is presented with such a brisk array of facts and figures, and progresses so relentlessly to its conclusions, that I defy anyone not to have some of their received ideas shaken up.
Note that the title is ‘England’ cricket: Buckland’s main concern is the national squad, its performance and the public’s access to it.
Why has our domestic setup not delivered a stable, successful and relatively injury-free national side, as the Australian system has? Why was the Ashes success of 2005 followed by the crushing failure of 2006/7? Why can most of the Barmy Army – genuine fans, whether or not you like their style - only attend England games overseas? Why were TV rights deals accepted which mean that 80% of English viewers can no longer watch their national side play a Test match?
Buckland has no hesitation in blaming the over-large and often mediocre county system and the power of the counties through the ECB. This is nothing new, of course - he details how many ex-players and commentators have called for reform of the counties at different times. (And anyone who thinks of Bob Willis as just the miserable bloke on Sky will be surprised at how forward-thinking and radical he has been for more than 25 years). But until I read this book I had never fully taken on board what an entrenched, unproductive and financially draining system it is.
Like most of the reformers before him, Buckland believes there are too many fully-professional county sides, and that the English game is being run in order to sustain them (none would be viable businesses without subsidy) when it should be run for the benefit of the national side and the fans, as Australian cricket is.
He also has some theories of his own about stadium size, based on the large numbers of fans unable to get tickets for major fixtures and the success of vast multi-purpose stadia in Australia like the Melbourne Cricket Ground. And, of course, that familiar equation, corporate hospitality=empty seats.
The book offers many constructive suggestions, based on Buckland’s concepts of ‘second-tier logic’ (ie how many teams you actually need to feed a national side) and the triple aims of ‘access, success and inspiration’. The final chapter has several formulae for real reform, some quite startling, especially in view of the emergence of Allen Stanford and the IPL.
The first few chapters are perhaps a little difficult to get into, as they move rapidly between different themes including a visit to Australia, childhood memories and the Olympic stadium. But if you love cricket, stick with it and read all of this book. It will put many things into context, and will make you understand exactly what is wrong with the English system - and why it has to be changed.