The ECB have today claimed that they have saved Durham County Cricket Club, in a press statement they proudly announced that they had agreed on terms that apparently secured Durham’s future, yet many believe it to be the final nail in the coffin for the North Eastern county.
It has been no secret that Durham was struggling financially this year, the club even took the measure of sending all members a statement reassuring fears that the club would collapse even before the 2016 season could end. They had gone the whole season without an overseas player, 2 of their top 3 batsmen agreed contracts elsewhere and the Test Match standard ground was rarely full. Yet many counties are in the same boat, it’s well known that Yorkshire has debts in the region of £20 million, far higher than Durham’s. Glamorgan had debts, the only difference in their scenario was the local council agreed to waive Glamorgan’s debt, something which the local council for Durham has so far been unwilling to do.
But the sour taste in many Durham fans mouths isn’t just down to the draconian punishment handed out, but rather the ECB’s handling of the whole affair. Most cricket writers, fans, and general experts would agree that the ECB are not innocent in the crime that is Durham’s descent. When Durham was pushing to achieve first class status the national cricket board was extremely encouraging, they deemed it necessary to have a strong cricketing influence on the region. Yet they still weren’t willing to let the new boys join their exclusive club without some conditions. One of which was that Durham had to construct a Test standard ground quickly, even before Durham had played a first-class game they already had a debt around their neck, many knew the ground would be rarely full. After all many Test grounds are city based often incredibly central, but not the Emirates Riverside. In fact, prior to the installation of expensive floodlights, another ECB encouraged development, many wouldn’t even realise it was there if they had driven past it.
Then came the bidding for international matches. The ECB appointed England matches essentially via an auction process that favoured the rich clubs and also the Southern clubs where more expensive tickets can be sold easily. The only real way for one of the so-called “smaller counties” to win a Test match was to bid beyond it’s means then hope for the best that there would be an excellent turn out, something that was a majestic success in the 2013 Ashes, but not the 2015 Test against Sri Lanka. Also included in the press anouncement was the claim that the ECB had been working on this agreemnet for over a year now. If that was the case why on earth did they let Durham host the Test against Sri Lanka. A Test that early, that began on a Friday was clearly never the right choice, yet Durham were allowed to carry on depsite everyone really knowing that the match was financial suicide.
Away from the causes of the punishment, the punishment itself seems harsh and reminiscent of a totalitarian regime. Durham have been stripped of their Test status, been relegated, will begin next season with a 46 point County Championship point defecit, 4 point deficit in the T20 Blast and a 2 point defecit in the One-Day Cup as well as having all prize money frozen until the club becomes financially solvent again. The club that fought so admirably to take 4th place in Division One in 2016 now finds itself deeprooted to the bottom of Division Two and the magic of the T20 Blast Finals Day now an almost impossible feat to recreate. With the side having seemingly no hope of trophy chances, it can only serve to harm attendances even further. There is confusion at how many extremely clever people at the ECB decided that the best way to secure Durham’s financial future was to ensure that almost all of its revenue streams are now almost non-existent.
It’s not as if this won’t affect the club in other ways, how can a club with seemingly no hope in any competition secure sponsorship and investment? Will Emirates still want to continue their sponsorship of an extremely expensive ground that appears to have hosted it’s final ever Test match? It isn’t even clear who the punishment is supposed to be attacking. Most of the board who caused this mess have since left or retired, one of the board members has even secured a job with the ECB!
Whilst off the pitch Durham may have failed, on the pitch they exelled. Many believed that they were one of the few shining lights, along with Northants, who had kept pushing depsite not sharing the riches of the top clubs. Let us not forget Durham won the County Championship as recently as 2013 and even won the One-Day Cup just two year ago. The ECB often use the same line that counties that regularly provide England squads with talent will be handsomely rewarded, clearly not in Durham’s case. This is a side who has provided some of England’s stalwarts over the years; Collingwood, Harmison, Stokes and Wood to name just a few.
There are lessons to be learned from both sides here however. For counties it is a clear sign that financial mismanagement is not something the ECB are going to treat lightly, for Durham it’s a clear message that all their financial policies were horrible and placed the club in a dangerous downwards spiral. Yet it appears it’s the ECB who has the most to learn. The fallout to this farce has been huge, depsite the most exciting end to a County Championship season in years, they have turned what could have been one of the most promising adverts on which to build the longer format for the game into a petty fight over finances and politics.