Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Leatherdale: The Challenges Ahead For Cricket And The Pca

Leatherdale: The Challenges Ahead For Cricket And The Pca

David Leatherdale has left his role as Worcestershire CCC chief executive to become CEO of the Professional Cricketers' Association.

Here he looks at the challenges that lie ahead in changing times for cricket and what his role entails in a Question and Answer session.

Question: What was the attraction of your new role at the PCA?

David Leatherdale: Having been at one county for 30 years, player and non-player, making the change is difficult. Does it feel about the right time in my life? I'm 48, the PCA have supported me to have the opportunity to work for the whole game.

It covers every single county, it covers the England set-up, it covers the Benevolent Trust who have supported players from this club in my times as chief executive.

With where the game is at domestically and globally, there are obviously a lot of changes going on.

You only have to see 81,000 people sat in the Melbourne Cricket Ground for a domestic T20 game and only 10,000 a week later watching Australia-New Zealand in a Test match to appreciate the game is not the same as it was 10 years ago.

The balance is understanding that and the history of cricket, which is what we all love.

Worcestershire has just had its 150th Anniversary celebrations. But the challenges are that we are part of that lovely cog of cricket in the global game. Worcestershire is one of 18 counties, the 18 counties are part of the ECB from an England perspective and recreational perspective.

But that is also one part of what the whole game looks like and each part of that is in a very different place.

T20 has had a yo-yo existence but in the last two or three years, with what we've seen what is happening around the world, it's starting to make people ask questions of what the game should look like in this country.

Question: Do you think for the forseeable future there will be a place for the four day game?

David Leatherdale: Absolutely. In this country, we love four-day cricket, it's got that history. The other balance is people say we've always had four-day cricket.

But we've also had three-day cricket and two-day cricket and just over 50 years ago, we didn't have one-day cricket. We've had 60, 55, 50, 45, 40 overs cricket, we've had every possible sort. It's been brought in to develop the game but four-day cricket has now been part of that set-up for quite some time. The T20 is only 10 years old.

I've been travelling around the counties recently and you are talking to lads 19-20 years-old and the internet wasn't around as they were being born scenario….the game has changed. Four-day cricket is hugely supported in this country and at Worcestershire we are very strong on it here. It is not necessarily the case everywhere.

You think of Test matches, when England, Australia and India are playing in Test matches and they are well supported but it is pretty common knowledge that is not necessarily the case if, for example, New Zealand are playing South Africa when they are filling stadiums for T20 matches and not Tests.

There will always be a love of Test cricket, the pinnacle of the game scenario. What Test cricket looks like in five-10 years time, is it as it is now…..possibly not. How that operates when you are talking about floodlit cricket in Adelaide, playing with pink balls to try and reinvigorate it, that is just one option that is being put on the table.

But there is no doubt that T20 has been a bit of a driver for participation, for younger age groups to get involved. It is shorter and cricket can be quite time consuming as we all know.

You could argue you've got three formats of the game, Test, 50 over and T20, that people and therefore you've got three individual audiences. Working with those three audiences is where it is difficult to make sure everyone gets their pound of flesh and understands what they want.

With Test match and four-day cricket, what that looks like in the next five to 10 years is probably the question everyone is trying to answer at the moment.

Question: I suspect promotion and relegation and only eight teams in the top Division of the Championship won't go down very well with members. What is your view on that?

David Leatherdale: I was going to say there are two schools of thought on that but it is probably about 15 schools of thought on what works and what doesn't work.

Starting with the two divisions of nine-nine, promotion-relegation personally I think has worked well. It is not everyone's view. It creates the sort of competition you want.

I know going into 2017 your two down, one up scenario for a year in order to create the 8-10 and then the plan is two up, two down for 2018…there should still hopefully be that migration from top to bottom.

If counties get to the point with the work they are doing, and are more viable and sustainable, and there is potentially more finance in the game, and if they managed properly, then you'd like to think there would be more of an even competition across the 18 counties.

As far as the 8-10 split, it frees up days of cricket which I agree with. Members will lose one four-day game at home but looking at the structure for 2017, there is distinct likelihood that many of these games will be played on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday in the early part of the season.

You could argue that you are going to get more access to games because you will see them at weekends.

At the moment, with the nine-nine split in divisions, you need 21 slots each season to fit all the games in because when eight teams are playing, one team is not, and it makes it difficult to rotate it.

An 8-10 split means that can come down to 16 slots so effectively it frees up 20 days to be able to manipulate the structure.

It is also common knowledge that 50 over cricket has not been on members radars for a while. It has not really been on players' radars for while but if you are going to be competing in a World Cup (2019), and that has seen as a big thing, then you probably need to be thinking about competing in it.

The attitude of those in the real know is that you probaby need to be playing more one-day cricket in blocks and things are going that way.

Question: Members are concerned that you won't play everyone now in the County Championship twice?

David Leatherdale: If you also go back to many years ago, we played 22 matches – 16 three-day games and six four-day games. One of the questions is, yes, how do you make 14 games fit with 10 teams and you are going to have to play some teams twice and some once.

The balance over a period of time is you are going to play sides and the strong will still rise to the top in that sort of scenario. It isn't perfect, don't get me wrong, but the balance is you are trying to look after three formats of the game.

If you really wanted to make it symmetrical, and the members would probably kick up even more of a stink, then you'd have to go into three divisions of six and only play 10 Championship matches.

The feeling is that is going too far in the short term but we know with cricket structures, it is not one option. Over the last 25 years, there have probably been 50 options.

We as a club at Worcestershire openly said we'd prefer to play 16 Championship matches and three or four of the other counties are in a similar boat but other counties don't feel that way.

They look at the potential to capitalise on what T20 is, to bring a new audience to the game, and the key point is if you are trying to do it properly, it is for the game as a whole.

Having to do the fixture schedule is a nightmare. Anything that can allow that to ease, and slightly less cricket, should hopefully create better quality.

One view is that we've still got time to play 16 games and the lads get enough time to rest. The modern day thinking is that they don't get enough time to rest, they spend half of their life in cars and coaches, playing five or six days a week. There are many different views.

The T20 cannot be taken for granted. We invented it but are probably lagging behind a little bit with other countries are pushing on and are at the forefront.

Because we have a strong history with four-day cricket compared to other countries, that is the difficult balance.

But if we are not careful, if we don't look at is as a whole and see what is good and how we get a six-year-old kid to come and play cricket at Kidderminster or wherever it might be…he is not likely to be following that as a four-day cricket watcher, he is likely to do it as a 20 over follower who hopefully will migrate to the 50 over competition and your four-day cricket as you see the game in a different light.

The next six months, and what 2017 looks like, will be quite interesting, but the World Cup will be quite a driver – and it is a financial driver.

You can't take that for granted. It is being held in this country and will generate substantial funds which ultimately come back to the counties, will go to the recreational game, will go to the Team England set-up.

There are bigger pictures about TV coverage, Sky, whether there should be coverage on terrestial TV, but there are opportunities that may be there come the new TV rights 2019 to broaden the audience. At the moment, that is not an option because you are tied into a deal with Sky.

Things have moved on very quickly when you think where T20 was five years ago. We did four matches, six matches, five, matches, then eight matches, then we were back to seven matches.

We are constantly trying to find that balance with what works for people to watch it, and the times they want to watch it, and the nights they want to watch it, but also making sure the game is viable and generating the money that is needed to sustain the counties as a whole.

Question: What do you see as main challenges of PCA?

David Leatherdale: There are two or very angles to it. The PCA side which looks after the players and the educational side of things, trying to help the players. There is no doubt that cricket has become far more cut throat like most sports are.

The loyalty of playing for 20 years for one county is very much disappearing. It will be very unusual now if someone who starts at 19 is still playing at 39 for one county.

Having spoken to the guys around the country during the last few weeks, you sat there saying 30 years ago, the idea of a 12 month contract which they have all got now, the idea of having an appraisal so you would have some idea of when your contract was coming to an end two or three months beforehand, rather than a meeting in September, were unheard of.

Anti-corruption, ant-doping, they are all major issues. They are things that are going to affect the game going forward. The PCA work heavily on things now.

When you go back four or five years to when an anti-corruption model was brought in, every single player now has to watch a video, sign off some documentation to show they are fully aware of it, they cannot play county cricket until they have done it. Again that wouldn't have been dreamed of (in the past).

The PCA, ECB and England have led that and are now trying to push that further afield which is not easy.They are some of the bigger things.

On the PCA side, there is a commercial arm which helps generate funds to support the benevolent trust. There are 407 professional cricketers but about 2,500 ex cricketers that still need help and support.

We only need to talk with some of the present players who have suffered through the depression side of things. The injuries when they get to 50-55….it's not when you are 30 that your body falls apart. There is a huge amount of work done to support players, trying to introduce long term healthcare for cricketers. There is a lot of work to do.

A lot of it is education. Talking to guys the last couple of weeks and you mention finances, advisors, pensions….one lad actually said what is a pension but he is 17 and doesn't think about those things.

In the last couple of weeks we've taken Chris Lewis and Graeme Fowler around with us. Graeme Fowler was a fantastic cricketer who has suffered from severe depression and now come out of it who has said he could not have done it without the support the PCA gave him.

A lot of what the PCA does is under the radar to support players. It is ultimately there to look after past, present and future cricketers and look after their well being.

But also the commercial element is to make sure the game and the players are fully supported, and are paid what they should be paid, and that the money is utilised in the best possible way and hopefully my experience of being at a county and as a player will be able to see the very much see the five sides of an argument and probably at one point jump off the fence!

Question: Where will you be based?

David Leatherdale: I'll be at The Oval medium term. That is where the commercial offices are but there is a PCA office at Edgbaston. I'll be down in London for most of the week and potentially back home at weekends but as my wife said 'well you spent 20 years when you weren't here as a player, I never saw you.'

Her other comment was 'you won't have to go to work on a Sunday because you won't have cricket!' It will be different but it will be full on but that's me, that's what I do. In the last fortnight, I did just under 2,000 miles driving around the country but it's been great, an eye opener.