On the face of it, the eve of the start of this season’s NatWest Blast should have been the ideal time and opportunity for the England and Wales Cricket Board to wheel out their chairman Colin Graves to deliver a ringing endorsement of the domestic T20 competition.
With year-on-year crowds up, ticket sales healthy, major world stars recruited, a full Sky TV programme of matches and radio coverage on BBC and TalkSPORT ready to roll, and with fans of the format still riding the excitement and eventual disappointment of England’s brave attempt to lift the World T20 in India, the cricketing public were ready to hear why they should love what they were about to be offered.
And then Graves managed to pop the balloon with a single word. ‘Mediocre’.
This seems to be the adjective most favoured by the 68-year-old businessman and former Yorkshire chairman.
You’ll recall that he used the very same one to describe the standard of the West Indies Test team that England were about to face last year in the Caribbean, a comment that captain Alastair Cook later described as a team-talk for the home side and one that may well have inspired them in their efforts to secure a 1-1 draw. But, while that may have been simple, his honest-to-goodness bluntness, it is hard to think of what he came out with last week as anything other than Graves’ ‘Gerald Ratner’ moment. Ratner’s story has passed into business manuals as the perfect example of how to derail a going concern, as he managed to wipe £500 million from the value of the jewellery business that bore his family name in one speech.
Ratner’s speech to the 1991 Annual convention of the Institute of Directors had been going swimmingly until the moment when he tried to explain the secret of his company’s profitability.
“We do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on” he informed his audience, “all for £4.95.
“People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, because it’s total crap.”
Cue share price meltdown and, within a year, the closure of hundreds of Ratner’s outlets here and in the United States at the cost of thousands of jobs. Compare and contrast with the thoughts of chairman Colin on the way forward for T20 cricket in this country, with or without franchise cricket.
“There are no agendas or recommendations of what we want,” he said. “We just want the best T20 competition in England to compare with the IPL and the Big Bash. Without speaking out of turn I think most would agree that our tournament is mediocre when compared.”
In case those trying to sell tickets for the upcoming Blast and those whose job it is to persuade broadcasters, sponsors and spectators that their investment is worthwhile need further reassurance that they have Graves’ support, here, plucked from my thesaurus, are a few other synonyms for, and other phrases which can be used instead of, his word of choice.
“Not very good, ordinary, inferior, second-rate, uninspired, undistinguished, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, lacklustre, forgettable, amateurish, bog standard, nothing to write home about, no great shakes, not so hot, not up to much.”
We remain to be informed as to the precise plans that Graves and his chief executive, Tom Harrison, have in mind for domestic T20 cricket, but the signals so far have been confusing, with franchise cricket neither completely ruled in nor completely ruled out and the idea of a two-division structure for 2017 with promotion and relegation initially rejected by the counties at their March meeting.
Until then, it will be down to the counties to Blast on regardless, hoping that when those charged with doing so finally come up with something, it will be better than what is already in place.
In the meantime, they may feel that even if the chairman of the board cannot say how great the product is that they are trying to sell, he could at least refrain from calling it crap.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 27 2016