Alan Higham

My thoughts on topical issues

Letter to FT re defined benefit pension scheme funding

I wrote this letter on 15 February 2015 – as yet unpublished – to the FT after it had published two misleading pieces on defined benefit pension scheme funding. In the light of the CEO of the Pension Protection Fund’s reported statement on the risks members of such schemes are exposed to given their large deficits then I suggest the FT re-considers the subject.

Dear Sir

You have now printed two large pieces of biased commentary on defined benefit pension scheme liabilities that contain major factual errors. I refer to Neil Collins’ article on 7 February and Mark Tennant’s letter in response published yesterday.

Mr Collins refers to the method of comparing the market value of a pension scheme’s assets with the present value of its liabilities discounted using corporate bond yields as the “madhouse of actuarial mathematics”. The method is mandated by international accounting standards for private companies to use in their accounts. It was introduced in the UK between June 2001 and June 2003 under a new accounting standard known as FRS17 after being consulted on in November 1999. Actuaries are simply obeying orders and doing the A level sums involved. Most actuaries objected to its introduction back in 1999.

Mr Collins’ deeply flawed logic to take the money and run is dangerous without detailed case by case examination. If it is followed by huge numbers of defined benefit members in taking a woefully inadequate sum of money to give up their pension rights then there will be two consequences.

1. There will be a massive boost to many companies’ balance sheets and cash flows

2. In the near future, a colleague of Mr Collins will be writing about the biggest financial mis-selling scandal to hit the pensions industry

Mr Tennant is in a significant muddle over his history & timeline. The actuarial profession was largely using the dividend discount method up until 2003 and in some places for even longer. The phoney surpluses he refers to in the 1980s and 1990s were calculated under the method he wishes to return to.

The actuarial profession was too blind to market values of pension scheme assets and liabilities for too long. Many companies missed the chance to de-risk their balance sheets for example in 1998 when bond yields of 9% were sufficient for many pension schemes to cover their liabilities without equity risk. The actuarial profession was slow to react to improving longevity and to adjust its long term return expectations to a world of low inflation driven by central bank monetary policy.

The methods under attack require the real value of assets actually held to be compared with the cost of financing the liabilities one owes using the real rates for corporate debt. If they had been in use in the 1990s then we almost certainly would have smaller pension scheme benefits and liabilities now.

When I’m driving my car, I’d rather know what size of hole I have to navigate than to imagine it is a small pot-hole rather than a crevice that would swallow up whole the car.

It wasn’t just the accountants who drove the major changes in the early 2000s. DWP regulations announced by press release on 11 June 2003 required the company to pay the pension scheme deficit in full (as though placed with an insurance company) were the scheme to close. Actuaries’ attitudes to pension scheme funding had to change as the scheme’s benefits were no longer a discretionary promise to use reasonable endeavours to provide but a huge, enforceable corporate debt.

Today, the cost of securing pension scheme liabilities is unaffordable by many UK companies without taking a risk on the future returns on equity investments. If the gamble fails then shareholder value will be destroyed first followed by future pension payouts and corporate debt will struggle to be repaid.

The UK pension regulator allows this to happen to varying degrees, hoping no doubt that the gamble will work out over the longer economic cycle. EU regulators seem less sanguine and more stringent reporting standards may follow. These points of basic corporate finance and accounting ought to be known and understood by all Financial Times readers and not demonised as ‘actuarial madness’.

Yours faithfully
Alan Higham
Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries

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Best neighbour

Below, I have reproduced a column from my favourite journalist, Auberon Waugh.  I cannot promise that you will be entertained by it, but it is a rare example of prose that I cannot read without hysterics.

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Christmas decorations were hanging around the one bedroom flat of John Shepherd, 68, in Harlesden when police helped plumbers break-in to repair a water leak which had been reported by neighbours.

The last date crossed off his calendar hanging on the wall was 22nd December but the year on the calendar was 1989 and the skeleton of John Shepherd lay on the floor in the kitchen where it had been lying undisturbed for very nearly 4 years.

Nobody had noticed his absence, although he was being sued by the local council for non-payment of rent. Later Brent council agreed that it had been seeking to evict Mr Shepherd – believing him to be a pensioner of 72 – although obviously in a dilatory and ineffectual way.

Nobody was prepared to accept the blame for Mr Shepherd’s death or for the body lying undiscovered for years but Detective Inspector David Brown from Brent police said: “It is extremely sad to think that an elderly man late dead at home for over three years without being discovered. It is an indictment of modern society.”. One does not like to disagree with the police but I think it is greatly to modern society’s credit that he lay undisturbed by the local welfare busybodies for all that time or even by convivial neighbours.

Through three Christmas seasons while the police were out trying to terrorise motorists and the nation’s 5.2 million public employees were otherwise occupied, his corpse quietly recycled itself in the kitchen linoleum. He was doing nobody harm and nobody did him any harm.

Those who continue to live on the Stonebridge Park estate in Harlesden would be embarrassed to receive Oldie Certificates of Good Neighbourliness signed by the Editor and if I turned up to pin gold medals on their chest they would suspect I was mocking them

The best neighbour is the neighbour who leaves you alone unless asked for help, not the neighbour who is forever ringing the doorbell to ask if you are all right, and the council tenants of Stonebridge Park Estate are a shining example to us all

There was a time when an accumulation of milk bottles would have ‘alerted the neighbours’ as they used to say. Nowadays milk is not always delivered – any more than newspapers are, in the general spirit of idleness amongst the young – it would be nice to think that every tower block of council flats contained a sarcophagus or two where a former pensioner lay quietly mouldering, pension uncollected, rent unpaid, harming no-one, their privacy respected for as long as the building is allowed to stand

It would encourage us to treat these repulsive buildings with a little respect, even awe, as we motor past them on our way to happier surroundings.

The other great lesson to learn from John Shepherd’s experience – or lack of experience, as one might say – is to confirm what I’ve always said about not answering business letters. The great rule about any letter you receive on any subject is that when in doubt about what to answer, don’t answer it. Never answer a business letter unless there is an obvious and immediate advantage to be derived from it and never answer a letter from the local council under any circumstances, even when it seems to promise an advantage. Nothing the council has to offer is worth having. It is always being hedged around with conditions and visits from half a dozen council officials, all paid through the nose for patronising you and supervising whatever tiny benefit is on offer, all required to make life as difficult and humiliating as possible. Most communications from the council offer no benefit whatever, of course, being demands for rent or council tax, or Mrs Thatcher’s disastrous poll-tax, which they will still trying to be collect in ten years’ time

Most people lose their nerve after the tenth reminder in red, demanding immediate payment on pain of instant eviction and seizure of all possessions. Mr Shepherd’s experience – or lack of it – proves that they are quite happy to go on sending these reminders forever or at least for four years. Occasionally, we read of councils sending in the bailiffs, but their victims are the people who were foolish enough to answer the letters, to make excuses, propose ways of paying, plead for mercy or more time. So long as you never answer, as Mr Shepherd never answered (being in no position to do so of course), they will simply go on bombarding you with warning letters in red until even that stops and they leave you to sleep in the bosom of your ancestors.

The poignancy of the Shepherd story has nothing to do with his death, which worked out beautifully so far is anyone’s death can be discussed in those terms. It is in the glimpse afforded of his life and last years on earth. Apparently he had two visitors, one an elderly female neighbour, the other a younger man presumed to be his son. Both must have grown discouraged when he failed to answer the door and gone away, resolved to forget about him. Or perhaps the elderly female neighbour is herself quite mouldering in another part of the estate. Traditional wisdom has it that the very old should be constantly visited, and it is touching how pleased many people are to be visited the loneliness of widowhood or solitary old-age. But by no means everybody want to be visited, and in extreme old age when most of the faculties have gone, I have a feeling that many people would prefer to be left to die alone, just as cats will walk away and seek solitude when they feel death coming upon them. One cannot be sure about this of course, but Mr Shepherd is no longer around to be consulted, and it seems a reasonable guess.

Let’s talk about KP, baby!

I’ve read so much about Kevin Pietersen in the last few days that have made my toes curl I wanted to put my thoughts down here for posterity. I’m sorry it does go on a bit.

KP has just been sacked. Not only has he lost his job for good; he can no longer do his job for anyone else.  He has been banned for life from International cricket.

Pause, imagine how it might feel to lose not only your job but also your career.

Many will say but KP will make millions of $$ at the IPL and the various other T20 leagues across the world.

(Those wonderful T20 leagues that have barely had a whiff of corruption around them nor have they posed the tiniest threat to Test cricket.)

A great actor has been denied any roles on the big screen or on stage but instead is able to make millions doing jingles and voiceovers on adverts.  Who is the better for that?

Not only has KP lost, but the paying public have lost, cricket has lost and we are told that the England cricket team are to be the winners. Time will tell and those who made this decision will have to accept the sack should this move not improve the England cricket team.

So if the decision to fire him was based on cricketing reasons then why can’t the ECB say so?

It is precisely because they are not cricketing reasons. But what reasons are they? Almost a week later, the ECB aren’t saying anything beyond some vague messages around team “ethics” and “trust”.

The hypocrisy of the ECB knows no bounds. For whilst England were being beaten in Australia, ECB officials were poodling up to the BCCI to secretly stitch up the running of World Cricket. Flying in the opposite direction to the recommendations of Lord Woolf on how to run the game for the good of the sport.  Instead, the game was to be run for the good of the BCCI, CA and ECB coffers.

The ECB as well as being hypocrites are also cowards. They have cancelled a man’s career; refused to give him nor anyone who loves cricket a reason for it.  We are told that there are legal reasons.  That of course is just rubbish. The law here is a civil, contract where two parties have agreed services for money with conditions. It suits the ECB to stay quiet. Its penalty for talking in law could be damages, perhaps as much as £1m should KP successfully sue for breach of contract.  What is £1m to the officials of the ECB when they have sold the game’s future to the BCCI for billions? The penalty that the ECB are afraid of is total ridicule. Their reasons for sacking KP are likely to be ridiculous.

It is better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

But what of KP’s role in his own demise? He can’t be blameless.  I don’t have any difficulty in accepting he was an awkward, arrogant and annoying man to manage in a dressing room. I don’t like to use the word ‘team’. Cricket is not a ‘team’ game in any meaningful way.  The closest it comes to a team game is when the two batsmen co-operate in rotating the strike tactically.  In every other respect it is a duel between a batman and a bowler with a supporting cast directed by a captain.  No-one had any problems with KP when he was winning games for the team.  We lose 5-0 and KP has to go. Better KP goes than Cook some would say, no doubt Cook would agree.

In 2012, had England wanted to fire KP for the ‘textgate’ stuff then they would have been within reasonable bounds to do so.  I wouldn’t have agreed that it merited cancelling a man’s career.  I never sacked anyone who worked for me and moaned behind my back to his/her colleagues. But, I can see why some would see it as a betrayal too big to forgive. Except, though, England did forgive KP, or did they?Did they really?

Much is made of KP’s history of leaving devastation behind him in every dressing room. Even the greatest cricket journalist of our time – Mike Atherton – has listed them: Natal; Nottingham; Hampshire & now England.

Let’s look at it a bit closer. Natal told KP he wasn’t good enough to be playing more regularly for them and that he had no chance of international honours in South Africa when he was a teenager.  He left the Natal B team to play for Notts before he was 20.  Whatever dressing room disarray was created in Natal, it can hardly have been serious and it certainly can’t be said to have been all KP’s fault.

KP’s career at Notts went from 2000 to the end of 2004; but he asked to be released from his contract at the end of 2003 when Notts were relegated despite KP’s 1500 first class runs. So KP is clearly guilty of putting his own personal ambitions above those of the club he was playing with. On the cusp of playing international cricket, KP did not want to be playing 2nd division cricket. Which of us would have done the same? Who hasn’t moved jobs to better themselves?

Matt Le Tissier became famous for staying with Southampton even at the cost of his international career. Many have applauded his loyalty and many have questioned his ambition.  Alan Shearer left Southampton to play for Blackburn and then Newcastle. Matt was famous because it was so unusual to eschew opportunity. In cricket, you were expected to stay at your county; to know your place and remember that it wasn’t so long ago that professional cricketers had to change in a different room to the gentlemen whose patrons owned the club and ran the game.

KP had already left his country; leaving Notts was always going to happen when they were relegated. Just list all the other England players who have moved counties like Swann and Broad to guess where? No Notts can’t complain about a system that was designed to concentrate quality in a smaller number of counties and bring about competition to toughen up the domestic game.

KP plays under Shane Warne at Hampshire at the start of 2005 season after making his ODI debut for England earlier that year. Later he plays in the 2005 Ashes and becomes a fixture in the England side. The relationship between KP and Hampshire has to be viewed in the context of England’s relationship with the counties.  Under Duncan Fletcher, the counties were getting used to the fact that their best players were no longer their players. On the rare occasions that an England player was available for their county, the county then had to move someone out of their spot.  It wasn’t always comfortable as Hussain relays about his time when Essex preferred not to play him. KP asks to leave Hampshire saying it was too far away from London; but there clearly was some conflict in the dressing room and perhaps KP wore the robes of success too flamboyantly.

If you are being fair, you have to observe that Surrey isn’t listed amongst those clubs where devastation has been left. In fact Adams, Stewart and Gould have all gone on record to commend KP’s role at Surrey.  It is a matter of fact that the day after KP was sacked by Cook et al that he ran a coaching session at the Oval, in the face of all the press waiting to be told officially what they had been told unofficially that KP was done. How many others would front up in those circumstances?

So, sorry Athers et al, I find your list of devastated dressing rooms unconvincing.

The other charge is that he brought Peter Moores down. The facts are conveniently forgotten.  First, KP should never have been made skipper. His flaws were known as was the fact that he didn’t see eye to eye with Peter Moores.  Peter didn’t get on with Vaughan either. Moores treated his international superstars like a county B team.  The work ethic that brought success at Sussex and Lancashire (then relegation) didn’t work at International level. Re-read the old news stories from Moores regime.  The press liked him because he was a nice man and gave them interviews unlike the horrible Fletcher and of late Flower. Moores thus enjoyed an easy ride until the beatings became too frequent.  Moores last Test in Mohali followed the Chennai Test where KP’s tactics were blamed for India scoring a massive last innings total. KP felt he hadn’t the right players alongside him – he wanted Vaughan back – and he didn’t get the tactical support from the coach he needed as a novice captain.

KP told his boss that he couldn’t carry on with Moores. He didn’t tell his ghost at the News of the World (who probably hasn’t forgiven him). He told his boss, in confidence.  His boss could have said: “KP, that’s my job to pick the coach not yours. Resign if you want but I pick the coach not you.”  Instead, KP was asked to set out his blueprint to take English cricket forward in writing for consideration.  KP did so. It was leaked to the press.  I have it from the journalist who broke the story that the leak did not come from KP or people close to him. KP was on holiday when the news broke.  In the media frenzy that followed, both Moores and KP were sacked. It is KP who was blamed. But for what? Speaking his mind, properly, confidentially and with thought? It stank then, it stinks even more when it is added to the list justifying his sacking now.

Just to finish with comments on a few odd articles written in the last few days.

Mark Nicholas has written that Graham Swann might still be playing Test cricket if it wasn’t for KP. He doesn’t say ‘Why’ because there is no link to Graham Swann’s elbow joint and KP.

Ed Smith says that the ECB need give no reason to cricket fans for why they have fired KP because Alex Ferguson didn’t explain why he sacked David Beckham. David Beckham went to play for Real Madrid in a better league and for a better team.  It isn’t as though KP can just go back to South Africa and play International cricket.

Why are intelligent men like Nicholas and Smith writing such nonsense?

Nicholas is a well known sycophant. You only have to listen to him in Australia, if you can bear it, throwing his newly acquired ‘Aussieisms’ around as he greases up to the cheerleading, one eyed former Aussie Test players in the Ch9 commentary box.  The ‘Lord Haw Haw’ of English cricket. Is Mark Nicholas settling some private (Hampshire) scores whilst toadying up to support the establishment? Or is he just being Toad of Toad Hall as per normal?

Smith is also an academic and perhaps he has a historical line like Peter Oborne of the Telegraph.  Lost in the beauty of historical paradigms with references to neo-liberalism (whatever that might mean) & exiled kings, they have perhaps lost sight of an important fact. It is this.

This decision has deprived Test cricket lovers of seeing one of the world’s best players.  Test cricket is on its knees and sinking fast. The most thrilling game in New Zealand versus India was watched by fewer spectators than in team England’s support retinue. At a time when Test cricket needs all of its supreme entertainers, the ECB apparatchiks have removed its only remaining star. Removed him before a World Cup, against the wishes of the World Cup team captain (apparently) and have refused to say why.

For the ECB to vaguely cite loss of trust and team ethics is beyond parody.

Renaissance

The renaissance period occurred in Europe across the 14th to 17th centuries and historians credit it as the period that bridged the Middle ages with the Modern Age. Renaissance meaning to be re-born.

Reflecting on the catalogue of lies and deceit that seem to typify the current times, I think we are in need of another renaissance.

In my own world of financial services, I have long observed that it is easier and more profitable to cheat, lie and deceive people. Regulators and policy makers are either too slow, stupid or corrupt, at least in the moral senses, if not the actual financial sense to stop the wickedness that results in wholesale mis-selling which has left most of Western Europe in a beggared state.

The problems aren’t unique to financial services as the food industry is amply showing at the current time.

Thinking more deeply, we have a corrupt and flawed system of government.   We have a genuine lack of democracy and accountability. Why else haven’t the causes of the MP’s expenses scandal been addressed?  The lack of real democracy in this country is made all the more disgraceful by the thousands of lives we help destroy each year in other parts of the world as we encourage our version of ‘democracy’.

Voters are utterly sick of today’s politicians and policy-makers as can be seen by how few people turn out to vote. A “none of the above” party would romp home.  We need new politics and a new type of politician.

The current PM is very nearly as socially useless as the last one and it wasn’t hard to beat him given he was by far the worst PM in living memory. Both were from very different backgrounds & political allegiances but share a common ground in being professional politicians who’ve barely done a day’s work in their lives and whose lust for power dominates all else.

The blue print for a renaissance needs to start with political reform.  We cannot expert any of the current turkeys to vote for this particular form of Christmas.

We have far too many politicians, councillors, assembly members etc along with their associated sycophantic advisers, rebel rousers and a galaxy of public officials, all paid through the nose by us, whose sole function seems to patronise and humiliate the tax-payers as they interfere with our daily lives, destroying the essential fabric of the country in the process.

25 years ago, courtesy and common sense were the dominating influences in the UK.  Today, we may as well hang out a banner at Heathrow saying “Welcome to the UK: Terms & Conditions Apply”.

The time has come to start again and to sweep away much of the pettifogging behaviours.

First off, I would halve the number of politicians who make decisions across the UK and impose similar cuts on the number of policy advisers paid from the public purse.  No “special advisers” would be paid from public funds.

All politicians would be paid fairly and openly without benefits such as expenses and pensions where the value paid can be manipulated.

We then focus the reduced number of people on addressing the four core issues needed to put the country back on its feet.

1. Encouraging growth & investment in the UK economy

2. Removing the incentives for citizens not to work.

3. Reducing the amount of State led interference in day-to-day life

4. Enshrining ethical behaviour as the foundation for day-to-day life

We can start item 4 by taking a different approach to business.  Businesses that have prospered on the base of lies and deceit should just be closed down and its leaders tried as the criminals they essentially are.

Some of our failed banks should have been allowed to collapse and new ones take their place.  Until it is shown that cheating & lying doesn’t prosper then we will have cheating & lying at the foundation of our lives.

If the directors of a hospital were personally liable and accountable for how its hospital treated its patients then we would have clean wards and better patient care. Perhaps the directors of a food company should be made to eat its own food.

As we have amply seen, pages upon pages of rules & regulations to manage these risks along with millions of people employed to enforce them just has not worked. It has hidden the problems and helped slowly strangle the country.

In my company, we have a simple principle that is applied whenever we make a decision what to do.  I call it the “Mrs Higham Test”: would we be happy to offer this to our Mum?

We need a new approach; we need to be re-born.

 

In Defence of Journalists

In a moment, I am going to repeat an article written in 1982 of the same title.

The worst excesses  of journalists breaking the law as catalogued by Leveson shows that more needs to be done to hold wrong-doers to account.  No-one, though, has demonstrated that existing laws and regulations are inadequate. Why the existing laws were not used by the police would have been a more suitable use of Leveson’s time.

A free press is our best guarantee of a civilised society and protection from oppressive, bossy politicians and officials, whose  purpose seems to be to enrich themselves in power and money whilst annoying the rest of us.

Now, back to 1982 to show that nothing changes that much.

“A large part of my time seems to have been spent defending journalists: there is an eradicable suspicion of them in England, which I find hard to explain, except in terms of sexual guilt.

Everybody, or nearly everybody, in England has a dirty secret, usually sexual but sometimes referring to some other habit or indulgence. This passion for secrecy is glorified by the name of privacy and fiercely defended by a whole apparatus of ingenious arguments: mothers and wives will be upset; worst of all children will have their feelings hurt. In one memorable case, it was announced that somebody’s kids had cried on the way home from school.

Yet despite these frightful faux pas, I have always maintained that the practice of journalism – and especially gossip journalism – is a genial one, adding to the gaiety of the nation, on balance, rather than subtracting from it.

People should be able to laugh at themselves and their curious habits: if they can’t, it is their own fault. Wives are frequently miserable for no reason. Children’s tears are quickly dried.

Journalists in my experience are generally easy going, unpompous people whose chief concern is to unravel good stories from the tangled skein of everyday monotony and pass them on.”

Auberon Waugh Spectator Magazine 17 April 1982

 

Galle in Defeat

After England’s fourth consecutive Test match defeats, a 10 minute press conference was held 11o km away in Colombo. As PR go, I’d say that was a faux pas as journalists had to endure a 3 hour round trip to obtain pearls of wisdom for their copy.  Sadly, we learnt very little from it.  Whether that was down to bunker mentality within the England camp or the press being too quick to question when Strauss was going to go, I don’t know as I wasn’t there.

I was here in 2001 when Nasser Hussain was wrestling with his demons.  Mike Atherton tells the story in his column http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/article3368655.ece

I too saw Nasser late in the evening having a smoke and drink in the small hours.  He didn’t need any help from me nor any comment and I left him in his torment without interruption.  In the next Test in Kandy, Nasser scored a match winning 100.  It was a good job there was no DRS as he must have been out about 10 times before reaching the century!!

The question no-one has reported on being answered was why are England’s top 6 failing collectively.  I’d say the main reason was poor shot selection.  Is that a result of a poor game plan or poor execution?

I’m slow to say Strauss should go but he is setting the wrong tone as leader in how he is getting out.  Hoiks and premeditated sweeps mainly have been his downfall this winter.  His troops are also finding too many ways to get out.  How can we discipline the troops if the leader show such wastefulness?

For Colombo, I’d say to Strauss, keep your mind clear and make them get you out.  The same goes for the rest of the order.

Patel’s selection is also worth a few thoughts.  Was he picked as a 5th bowler who can bat or a 6th batsmen who can bowl? I thought the former but seeing England put him in at 7 made me think they chose him for the latter.  He bowled more than I thought he would but then Monty was less effective than everyone thought he would. Personally, I’d choose Bresnan over Patel. Finn needs to come in for Broad and that is my XI for Colombo.  I suspect England will just put Finn in fro Broad.  The more conservative approach is Bresnan for Broad but we need a bit of firepower to shift the tail.  The tail wagged and was the difference between the teams.

 

 

 

 

Desert Storm

I have just returned from the UAE where I saw two gripping Test matches.  There were shades of England from the 1990s in the play.  The disappointment of defeat resulting from an abject batting capitulation.  The difference being that I was quite  accepting of it 20 years ago, it just went with the territory of a (relatively) poor Test team.

I wasn’t surprised to see England struggle. My pre-series prediction was that England wouldn’t win the series.  Pakistan are a talented team.  They were in the groove from playing regular cricket and England were rusty from a well earned rest. Unlike in Australia, England had no real competitive cricket ahead of the real thing.  A minor nations game whilst an admirable idea wan’t good enough.

Andy Flower has selflessly taken his share of responsibility.  But the batting was uniformly poor.  72 all out chasing 145 was a bad old days’ performance that I didn’t see coming at all.  With pride to play for and a guaranteed ICC bonus of $450,000, the next innings almost made 145 falling 4 runs short.  The tragedy was that we had seized the game by the scruff bowling Pakistan out for 99.

What chance did we have of chasing 324? Not much, but really, England should have got much closer as the pitch had lost its sting. There were also some awful shots played as Bell, Morgan and Broad gave their wickets away.

Strauss says the best batsmen are in the team and the new boys are too inexperienced.  I’m not sure that is correct.  For sure, Strauss would be the first to be questioned on batting results alone.  All bar Morgan have enough credit in the bank to be given another chance in Sri Lanka. I don’t think Morgan has the technique to succeed in Test cricket.  He’ll do very well in ODI and T20 and there is time for him to improve his longer game.  I don’t know who should replace him but I think a change is needed.

The bowlers were top drawer. Had the fielding been 100% instead of 90% then we might have scraped home too.

There are 9 tough Test matches for England to come this year.  If England are still #1 at Christmas then the disappointment in the desert can be seen as just a passing storm.

 

 

Woolf Report

In commissioning the Woolf Report, the ICC has put into the public domain a massive question about the future of the game of cricket.  Can Cricket seriously become a global sport or is it destined to stay a private members’ club?

Cricket’s past shows it to be a game introduced by the British to its Commonwealth.  Countries like the USA/Canada have not embraced it to the same degree asAustralia,South Africa,IndiaandWest Indies.  Indians have taken the game to their heart.  As the Indian economy rapidly expands, it is the preferences of Indian people which generate 60-80% of cricket’s global revenues.

Cricket is played at representative level by countries outside the Commonwealth. There are over 100 countries linked to the ICC.   However, standards of cricket outside the top 8 countries are relatively poor.

For cricket to become a serious game globally, then there needs to be a support and player base of serious potential within a large number of countries. That potential has to be capable of producing a competitive game.

Woolf does not address whether this potential really exists.  He states that the ICC has reached a stage in its development where it must focus on the global game not just on the Full Members.  The “global game” is code for whether the ICC should have governance over how individual Full Members make decisions on cricket matches between Full Members and they spend money on cricket within their own body.

There is a majority view, but by no means unanimous that the ICC should be the authority to govern the game globally.  To date, no conclusive discussions have been led by the ICC to agree its role among its Members.

The Woolf Report provides the backdrop for Members to decide whether to make permanent sacrifices to develop the game globally.

Various stakeholders’ views were considered by Woolf: the Member Boards; international players (past & present) and members of the press.  Woolf didn’t see the need to seek any public opinion or to refer to any authoritative research on public opinion. He does however note that a recurring theme was a desire for greater dialogue between the ICC and the fans.  Woolf notes the suggestion that there could be a Communications or Supporter’s Committee but does not consider the area any further.

The problems in the game are identified to stem from jealously guarding increasing global revenues. Without the paying spectator though, there would be no money to salivate over.  Woolf occasionally mentions the public as stakeholders but no-where are the views of spectators properly considered.  Woolf makes 65 recommendations and proposes 9 committees to report to a new ICC board.  None of which are proposed to have any regard to the paying public at all.

It is a significant omission given the revolutionary changes the report proposes.

Do cricket fans want to see less cricket played amongst the Full Members and more cricket played between Associate Members and Full Members?  Do fans want to see their cricket boards receive less money from International cricket matches in favour of this money going elsewhere?

Indian cricket fans generate most of the money. India has a stranglehold on cricket’s governance. Will this be given up for the rather intangible and uncertain aim for better development of the game globally?

The demanding standard of Test Cricket versus ODI or T20 cricket is such that increased globalisation is going to mean more ODI/T20 cricket.  Less Test Cricket but of a higher quality is no bad thing. But how much less and how will this be arranged?  Woolf wants to see Test Cricket preserved but does not make any formal recommendation that the preservation of Test matches should be a requirement for the ICC.

An independent ICC with a requirement in its constitution to promote and preserve Test match cricket whilst encouraging global participation through limited overs matches has to be a good thing.  It would also be nice if the paying public were thought of too.

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